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Published on May 4th, 2016 | By: Stephanie Liverani

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Video: Small and soft (but mighty) self-propelling motors aid in pollution cleanup

Published on May 4th, 2016 | By: Stephanie Liverani

[Image above] Researchers at the Research Institute of Materials Science, South China University of Technology (Guangdong, China) have developed a small, soft motor capable of cleaning up contaminants from water. Credit: American Chemical Society; YouTube

 

Motors we use every day aren’t always the greenest or the cleanest. The bulky, gasoline-powered engines that keep our cars running spew combustion gases and particulate matter into the atmosphere around us in order to function.

 

But recently, scientists have been focusing on developing a different kind of motor—one that’s not fossil fuel-reliant and can actually help clean up pollution, not contribute to it.

 

These motors run on things like light, magnetics, or chemical solutions.

 

One motor developed by a team of researchers at the Research Institute of Materials Science, South China University of Technology (Guangdong, China) is designed to help remove organic contaminants, such as pesticides and plasticizers, from water.

 

A recent video produced by the American Chemical Society demos the motor in action as it purifies a small pool of water.

Credit: American Chemical Society; YouTube

 

The scientists made this motor out of an inexpensive polyacrylamide hydrogel and then injected it with a potassium permanganate solution, the video explains. The permanganate reacts with diluted hydrogen present in the pool, creating hydroxyl radicals that can break down organic contaminants.

 

And it’s that same reaction that also produces an oxygen gas that bubbles out from behind the motor and propels it.

 

After 75 minutes, the motor successfully eliminated a model pollutant—methyl blue—leaving the water crystal-clear.

 

The research, published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, is “Self-propelling hydrogel/emulsion-hydrogel soft motors for water purification” (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b00197).


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