December 21, 2015

Polymer breakthrough could revolutionize water purification

Dichtel Group
A porous material made from cup-shaped cyclodextrins, which rapidly bind
pollutants and remove them from contaminated water.

(December 21, 2015)  We’ve all seen the Febreze air fresheners, which employ a derivative of corn starch to trap invisible air pollutants in the home and remove unwanted odors.

A team of Cornell researchers has used the same material found in Febreze, cyclodextrin, to develop a technique that could revolutionize the water-purification industry.

The team is led by Will Dichtel, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology and a 2015 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship winner. His group invented a porous form of cyclodextrin that has displayed uptake of pollutants through adsorption at rates vastly superior to traditional activated carbon – 200 times greater in some cases.

Activated carbons have the advantage of larger surface area than previous polymers made from cyclodextrin – “more sites for pollutants to stick to,” Dichtel said – but they don’t bind pollutants as strongly as cyclodextrin.

“What we did is make the first high-surface-area material made of cyclodextrin,” Dichtel said, “combining some of the advantages of the activated carbon with the inherent advantages of the cyclodextrin. When you combine the best features of those two materials, you get a material that’s even better than either class.

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