Today, 3D printing is a booming technology that allows the manufacture of objects by superimposing successive layers of a certain material. The best quality of this tool is the wide variety of objects that can be produced with a simple click quickly, easily and effortlessly. This means that this technology has been introduced in many fields and every day it does so in more . One of them is water purification.
Currently, water treatment methods consist of many stages that vary depending on their origin
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It is common to find news about different incidents related to water pollution. Thousands of ecosystems have been destroyed by man-made pollution.
Often times, the media only report water pollution news when it comes to first world countries . A recent example is the great environmental disaster suffered by the Mar Menor , in Spain. Thousands of organisms were devastated by the effects of anthropogenic pollution. But they really are only the tip of the iceberg. Water is an essential and limited good and, therefore, its care and maintenance for its reuse are extremely important.
3D printing applied to water treatment
Actually, water treatment methods consist of many different stages that vary depending on their origin, be it fluvial, industrial, residual …Although it is a field yet to be explored, 3D printing can make important contributions to water purification. In our research group we have recently used this technology to manufacture devices coated with adsorbent materials to purify aqueous solutions with different colorants for industrial use.
The materials obtained by 3D printing have little adsorption, so their application for the elimination of contaminants is limited . An alternative is to use them as a support for the incorporation of adsorbent materials. One factor to consider is that the larger the area of the 3D device, the greater the amount of adsorbent material that can be incorporated. For this reason, the device designed and manufactured by our group consists of a module with interconnected channels. This increases the surface area within it and therefore the surface to which the adsorbent material can be added.
Materials that trap pollution
One of the advantages of adsorbent materials is that we can modify their composition to eliminate one or more contaminants. However, they are difficult to use. Its small size and irregular shape complicate its extraction in the aqueous phase, once the pollutants have been trapped. Both the devices obtained by 3D printing and the adsorbent materials have different advantages and disadvantages. That is why it is interesting to combine them to obtain the maximum benefits for both parties.
A very simple method to incorporate these substances to the surface of the devices is to do it right after printing, taking advantage of the fact that they are soft and sticky. In this way, by simple contact, a synthesized adsorbent carbon can be deposited on its surface. The result is an adsorbing 3D device. To test its effectiveness in the laboratory, we prepared a series of solutions containing different industrial dyes (pink, green, blue) and into which we introduced the manufactured devices.
Over time, we observe discoloration of all solutions. In all cases, they completely lost color within 24 hours due to adsorption of the dye by the 3D device. These highly porous 3D devices have a long lifespan. We repeated the test with the same device several times and it maintained its great effectiveness without losing efficiency.
In other essays, we use a synthetic membrane as an alternative method to bond the 3D devices and the adsorbent material. In this case, we use the resulting device to degrade industrial colorants. To achieve this, we use an adsorbent material that, in the presence of a precursor, is capable of degrading pollutants into simpler and less dangerous molecules.
As in the previous case, we did tests to degrade industrial colorants (green, orange, pink, blue). The results obtained were excellent: the discoloration of the solutions took less than 30 minutes and we were able to repeat the process numerous times, demonstrating that the device can be reused.
In conclusion, our studies have allowed the incorporation of adsorbent materials on 3D devices by two different methods, giving them qualities that they did not previously present. The 3D devices we have developed have proven to be effective in removing contaminants. Furthermore, long-term stability and durability studies suggest that they could be applied on a larger scale for water purification.