A high-tech “net” and the power of the sun are all that is needed to remove contaminants from water produced by fracking operations, oil spills, textile manufacturing, and other sources.
Material science and engineering professor Perena Gouma and her team at The State University of New York, Stony Brook have created the nanogrid — a large net consisting of copper tungsten oxide grids that, when activated by any kind of natural or artificial light, can break down oil and other pollutants. The results leave only biodegradable compounds behind.
“There was really no technology that could remediate water without leaving a contaminant behind,” says Gouma. “We really needed a viable solution.”
The nanogrid is not yet on the market, but pilot testing has been successful, and Gouma hopes to make the product available to the public in roughly a year.
The technology behind the nanogrid is complex — metal clusters diffused inside polymeric nanofibers, that turn into single crystal nanowires and form metal oxide — but using it is simple.
The nanogrid is self-supported and lightweight, and requires no installation or additional power source other than light. It can be created in any size needed and reused numerous times. This is very different from most solutions to oil and fracking pollution.
“It floats in the water, you don’t need to hold it, and you don’t need installation,” says Gouma. “You just apply it to the water, leave it for a day or so, and retrieve it — or keep it there for a longer period of time to continually clean the water.”
Gouma envisions the product as a staple item on every boat, available to immediately clean up an oil spill before it further damages the environment. Currently, most oil spill cleanup involves surfactants that separate oil droplets, bind them, and keep them in the water along with the surfactant. Bacterial processes are also used. Since the nanogrid only leaves behind biodegradable materials, it is significantly more environmentally friendly.
Gouma also believes the nanogrid could be a fixture at fracking sites. “We have had a lot of people from the fracking industry calling, and the more people learn about this technology, the more excited they get,” she says.
The nanogrid can be incorporated with the geotextiles used to make fracking pits, allowing it to remediate the water as it is being used. It can remove BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene), which are dangerous containments that commonly enter the water as a result of fracking.
Wastewater contaminated with dyes and chemicals from textile manufacturing and dry-cleaning operations could also be remediated using the nanogrid.