In the natural environment, phosphate is a key ingredient for the growth of aquatic plants and animals. The problem is that human activity is flushing too much of it into waterways from the earth’s crust. This leads to an active bloom of algae on the surface of lakes and rivers, which deprives other aquatic organisms of the oxygen they need to survive.
A new spongy material – the PEARL membrane – solves the problem. It not only captures phosphates from water sources, but collects them for reuse. Phosphate is commonly used in agricultural fertilizers.
American scientists from Northwestern University have created a porous and flexible material coated with nanostructures. They bind to phosphate ions and remove them from polluted water. By changing the pH levels in the material, phosphates can be removed and the sponge can be reused.
The scientists also plan to adapt the sponge to remove heavy metals from water and state by altering the nanomaterial in the membrane’s coating.