Teeny Tiny nano motors could cleanse our oceans of rising carbon dioxide levels

12 Oct

Whether you believe in climate change or not, there is no denying that our daily activities are having a negative impact on the environment. It has been argued that climate change has created an imbalance in almost everything that Mother Nature created. The cycle of seasons has been upset what with hurricanes, earth quakes and flash floods upsetting the world without warning. We are also discovering things that should or shouldn’t be at particular locations around the world are increasing.

It will also come as no surprise that these changes have also been happening in the world’s oceans. The build-up of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, is increasingly impacting oceans around the world, making waters more acidic and threatening sea life. To help reduce carbon dioxide levels, a group of scientists from the University of California in San Diego have developed a system of nano machines that remove CO2 as they pass through water. If effective, the nano machines could slow down climate change while promoting greater ocean health at the same time. The tiny machines are smaller than the width of a human hair and have an external polymer surface which holds the enzyme carbonic anhydrase.

The enzyme on the machine’s surface generates a reaction between carbon dioxide and water, creating a bicarbonate. With the addition of calcium chloride, the nano machines transform carbon dioxide into calcium carbonate, which does not release greenhouse gases. The nano machines are basically six-micrometer-long tubes that help rapidly convert carbon dioxide into calcium carbonate, a solid mineral found in eggshells, the shells of various marine organisms, calcium supplements and cement.

It was reported by the researches in laboratory experiments that the nano machines managed to scrub 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from a tested solution of deionised water. It took five minutes to do so. It was also reported that in sea water, the machines removed up to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide.

Kevin Kaufmann, an undergraduate researcher in Wang’s lab and a co-author of the study said, “In the future, we could potentially use these micromotors as part of a water treatment system, like a water decarbonation plant”. Kevin went on to say “If the micromotors can use the environment as fuel, they will be more scalable, environmentally friendly and less expensive,”

When a small amount of hydrogen peroxide is added to the solution, the conversion happens, generating oxygen bubbles that propel the motors through the water. However, scientists are currently exploring ways to cut back on the two to four percent of hydrogen peroxide used as they focus on alternatives to use water itself to fuel the motors.

A major advantage of the technology is that when the job is done, the nano machines can be easily recovered from the water and be reused again and again in new samples of polluted waters. Watch this space…

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