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China: Environmental Protection Fully Biodegradable Cellulose Membrane Proves Effective in Oil-Water Separation

Source: Press release MA Alexander Stark |

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A group of researchers at Shanxi Institute of Coal Chemistry have developed a new and improved method for oil-water separation. Their process allows them to obtain membrane materials that are fully biodegradable.

The closed loop process of the degradable cllulose oil-water separation membrane.
The closed loop process of the degradable cllulose oil-water separation membrane.
(Source: Institute of Coal Chemistry (CAS))

Oil spills and industrial pollution pose a huge threat to the ecological environment. Concerns over safety have seen an increased focus on improving the filtration of oily wastewater; for example, during the treatment of sewage. Membrane separation technology offers a promising and efficient option for treating polluted wastewater, particularly with its low energy consumption. However, it remains a challenge to find low-cost, strong and environmentally-friendly composite membranes that can achieve a high level of separation.

Scientists at the Shanxi Institute of Coal Chemistry, China, have developed a new cellulose membrane that not only improves the effeciveness of oil-water separation, but their membrane is friendly to the environment.

According to Prof. Tiansheng Deng, the paper’s corresponding author: “Oil-water separation membrane materials that have been widely used in recent years include vinylidene fluoride (PVDF), polypropylene (PP), polyacrylonitrile (PAN), nylon or their composites. However, these polymers are non-biodegradable and put further pressure on the environment.”

To solve this problem, Prof. Deng and his group chose degradable cellulose derived from plants as a raw material and then bonded it with commercial cellulose filter paper, which is low in price and porous. They found that a large number of nanopores appear in the modified cellulose filter paper, which improve the membrane’s barrier against oil droplets. When their separation membrane comes into contact with water, a cellulose hydrogel is formed that effectively separates oil-water mixture and oil in water emulsion.

Prof. Deng adds: “Cellulose chains are tightly bonded by a hydrogen bond, with few defects, and the mechanical properties of the material are greatly improved. The high dry and wet mechanical properties of the membrane extend the ways in which it can be applied and help it to remain stable when used in water. We believe this is an important step forward in the treatment of pollution.”

Original Publication: Efficient oil-water separation by novel biodegradable all cellulose composite filter paper; Green Energy & Environment; DOI:10.1016/j.gee.2022.03.013


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