Utilizing Carbon Nanotubes for Water Filtration Using New Technology

New research suggests that carbon nanotube technology may be used to create more effective water filtration systems. Image Credit: Flickr user Joscarfas

Early in 2017, materials science researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology published a study in Environmental Science Water: Research and Technology, describing a new class of carbon nanotubes that can remove organic contaminants from water. The single-walled carbon nanotubes they developed consist of an ultrathin, rolled-up sheet of graphene, a material that is highly conductive on the nanoscale. These nanotubes are hydrophobic, so only the organic contaminants stick to the nanotube: the water just passes through.1 This means they may have useful applications for the future of water filtration systems.

Although carbon nanotube research has been going on for decades, this is the first time the technology has been used for water purification. They believe that the single-walled carbon nanotubes described in their paper may be used for environmental cleanup of polluted waters, as well as in home filtration systems.2 Materials science researchers who are looking to adapt the technology for these applications can use modern data collection and analysis software to support their research efforts.

Drawing on Previous Data for Applications Research

Research on carbon nanotubes has been underway for almost two decades, mostly related to fuel cells, but more recent papers have started probing the possibilities of using carbon nanotubes for various types of filtration. When applying single-walled carbon nanotube technology to the creation of water filtration devices, it will be important to bring in previous research findings on nanotubes, even those that are not directly related to the removal of organic contaminants from water. For example, a study published in 2015 in Nature Communications describes a carbon nanotube membrane that is resistant to bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation, which could possibly be incorporated into new filtration systems. The authors discuss the permeability of their nanotubes,3 which could serve as a helpful comparison for scientists developing prototypes.

Materials scientists working on prototypes for carbon nanotube-based water filtration systems will also need to compare the effectiveness of the filters they come up with to that of existing water filtration devices and methods. In their lab experiments, the Rochester scientists were able to demonstrate that their carbon nanotubes were better at removing organic contaminants from polluted water than the compounds that are currently used for industrial water treatment, such as silicon gels and activated carbon.

Also, they showed that carbon nanotube-based filters could be reused, which means that people using them in their homes would never have to replace them.  As materials scientists try to adapt these initial findings for industrial and commercial applications, it will be critical to make sure that the improvements are maintained when applied in the real world, so comparisons with legacy filtration systems will be critical.

Given the large body of existing data that is relevant to the creation of carbon nanotube water filtration systems, modern database access software can greatly improve the efficiency of applications research in this area. With this software, researchers can draw from online resources, as well as their own research archives, to find pertinent papers and results. Plus, the software provides search options that weed out information that is not directly related to their research efforts. That way, when looking for data in nanotube papers focusing on fuel cells or other applications, scientists will not have to waste time sorting through irrelevant results.

Gaining Insight Through Collaboration

Creating carbon nanotube-based filtration systems for water treatment or home filtration systems will likely require insights and input from professionals with a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds. For instance, when developing filtration systems for industrial water treatment, it may be helpful to consult with environmental scientists in order to optimize systems for particular types of contaminants. With home filtration systems, developers may want to consult health professionals, in order to make sure that the final filter sufficiently rids drinking water of all unsafe contaminants.

In addition to supporting collaborations with external consultants, modern software also facilitates communications within a research organization. This can be especially helpful if different groups have been assigned to study different applications of single-walled carbon nanotubes. Instead of unnecessarily duplicating each other’s experiments, groups that are working on home filtration systems may be able to utilize the findings of those working on industrial systems, and vice versa, so that they are both able to develop high-quality carbon nanotube-based water filtration systems that are ideal for either home filtration or environmental cleanup.

BIOVIA Insight is a modern software application that streamlines the collection, analysis, and visualization of data, as well as the transfer of information within research groups and with external collaborators. For materials scientists researchers who are looking to draw insight from large bodies of lab data as they develop real-world technologies, this software can greatly improve efficiency throughout the R&D process. Contact us today for more information about our offerings.

  1. “Emerging investigators series: highly effective adsorption of organic aromatic molecules from aqueous environments by electronically sorted single-walled carbon nanotubes,” January 5, 2017, http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2017/EW/C6EW00284F#!divAbstract
  2. “Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future,” March 29, 2017, https://phys.org/news/2017-03-reusable-carbon-nanotubes-filter-future.html
  3. “A carbon nanotube wall membrane for water treatment,” May 14, 2015, https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms8109