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Polymer breakthrough could revolutionise water purification

28 December 2015

A team of Cornell researchers has used cyclodextrin (the same material found in Febreze) to develop a technique that could revolutionise the water-purification industry.

A porous material made from cup-shaped cyclodextrins rapidly binds pollutants and removes them from contaminated water (image: Dichtel group/Cornell University)

The team, led by Will Dichtel, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University, has developed a porous form of cyclodextrin that demonstrates an uptake of pollutants through adsorption at rates vastly superior to traditional activated carbon – 200 times greater in some cases.

Activated carbons have the advantage of larger surface area than previous polymers made from cyclodextrin but they don’t bind pollutants as strongly as cyclodextrin.

“What we did is make the first high-surface-area material made of cyclodextrin, combining some of the advantages of the activated carbon with the inherent advantages of the cyclodextrin," says Dichtel. Combining the best features of the two provides a material that performs better than either of them.

“These materials will remove pollutants in seconds, as the water flows by, so there’s a potential for really low-energy, flow-through water purification,” says Dichtel.

What’s more, the cyclodextrin-containing polymer features easier, cheaper regeneration, so it can be reused many times with no observed loss in performance.

The results of this work are published online in the journal, Nature.

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