What is it about?

This publication reports our PEARL membrane, which is designed to selectively remove phosphate anions from water for multiple cycles. Using a mild change in pH, an easily controllable parameter, the phosphate can be released for further use and the membrane can be reused. This ties into the broader goals of our group to develop nanocomposite materials that bridge the gap between the lab scale nature of many remediation solutions and the large scale of environmental remediation problems. Using a platform membrane approach rooted in the concepts of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and environmental stewardship, we have developed materials for oil and phosphate remediation, and are working on extending this versatile approach to other contaminants.

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Why is it important?

Phosphate pollution is problematic for many reasons. Anthropogenic hypereutrophication, namely excess nutrients released into natural bodies of water from human activity, can have substantial economic, environmental, and public health consequences. In the presence of extra phosphates and nitrates, blue-green algae bloom, which block sunlight, produce toxins, and when they die, lead to the proliferation of bacteria. As bacteria consume dead matter, they use up oxygen, which makes an anoxic dead zone prompting a positive feedback cycle. Moreover, phosphate rock is a non-renewable natural resource of limited supply, so it’s important to recover these nutrients for further reuse. The scarcity of phosphate emphasizes the benefits of remediation approaches that make use of the concept of a circular economy. With this in mind, in designing the PEARL membrane, we wanted to ensure that we could not only remove phosphates but also recover them for further use.


It's been a pleasure to work on the development of the PEARL membrane, as it has given us opportunities to connect with others in this growing field. This work is part of an increasing shift in the materials science community to focus on the development of environmental stewardship systems with an emphasis of realistic engineering, ergonomic and economic factors. This work has taught us the power of “R” - Reduce, Reuse & Recycle to Restore (the environment), and we intend to keep these principles in mind in our future work.

Vinayak P Dravid
Northwestern University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Phosphate Elimination and Recovery Lightweight (PEARL) membrane: A sustainable environmental remediation approach, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2102583118.
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