Eggs may be part of a staple breakfast recipe but they could also prove an unlikely ally in the battle against plastic pollution in our oceans. According to scientists at Princeton University, egg whites can be transformed into a material capable of filtering microplastics and salt out of seawater.
The science and other stuff to know
Currently, there are more than 50 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in our oceans, according to UNESCO’s Ocean Literacy. And experts predict these amounts will have quadrupled by 2050.
To curb this rising global crisis, researchers have come up with lots of ways to filter microplastics from water. The most recent invention is taking the battle against plastic pollution in our oceans to the next level.
In a new study published in Materials Today, researchers at Princeton University transformed egg whites into a water-filtration substance called aerogel that can remove 99 percent of microplastics from seawater.
To transform the egg whites into an effective water-filtration system, researchers freeze-dried egg whites and then heated them up to 900 degrees Celsius in an oxygen-free environment. After heating, the egg proteins produced a mix of carbon fiber strands and graphene sheets that can remove microplastics and salt from water with 98 percent efficacy.
Using egg whites to remove microplastics from water has significant sustainable benefits to the environment. According to the study, “it is inexpensive to produce, energy-efficient to use, and highly effective.”
Also, compared with reverse osmosis, which requires significant energy and water for operation, this filtration process requires only gravity to remove microplastics and wastes no water.
The first author of the paper Sehmus Ozden said in a statement, “The egg whites even worked if they were fried on the stove first, or whipped. Activated carbon is one of the cheapest materials used for water purification. We compared our results with activated carbon, and it’s much better.”
The research team is now planning to refine its material fabrication process so they can use it for large-scale water purification. They are also looking into producing synthetic proteins with similar filtration qualities, instead of using store-bought eggs.