New sponge can remove toxic metals, recover critical minerals from contaminated water – by Staff ( – May 14, 2023)

Northwestern University engineers have developed a new sponge that can remove metals—including toxic heavy metals like lead and critical metals like cobalt—from contaminated water, leaving safe, drinkable water behind.

In a paper published in the journal ACS ES&T Water, the researchers explain that they tested their new sponge on a highly polluted sample of tap water, containing more than 1 part per million of lead. With one use, the sponge filtered lead to below detectable levels. After using the sponge, they were also able to successfully recover metals and reuse the sponge for multiple cycles.

“The presence of heavy metals in the water supply is an enormous public health challenge for the entire globe,” Vinayak Dravid, senior author of the study, said in a media statement. “It is a gigaton problem that requires solutions that can be deployed easily, effectively and inexpensively. That’s where our sponge comes in. It can remove the pollution and then be used again and again.”

Dravid noted that this project builds on his previous work developing highly porous sponges to clean up oil spills. The nanoparticle-coated sponge is now being commercialized by Northwestern spinoff MFNS Tech.

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