Novel micromotors use oxygen bubbles to propel themselves in water while cleaning up pollution

12/09/2013 - 00:00

Researchers in Germany have invented micromotors that can propel themselves through water while degrading organic pollutants. The micromotors, which run on dilute hydrogen peroxide, could be used to clean up small reservoirs, pipes and other hard to reach places.

Organic pollutants are found in many industrial wastewaters, including those of textile companies, pharmaceutical companies and agriculture. They are an increasing problem, because they are often resistant to environmental degradation and cannot be processed with conventional biological or chemical water treatments.

Micromotors could help. Last year, building on previous uses of micromotors as on-chip biosensors and cell transporters, Joseph Wang, at the University of California, San Diego in the US, and colleagues developed self-propelled micromotors that could capture oil droplets – thereby offering a means to clean up small oil spills. Only now, however, have micromotors been used to actually degrade pollutants. ‘This study indicates the great potential of micromotors for environmental monitoring and remediation,’ says Wang.