Nanofiber Electrodes That Clean Up Pollutants In Wastewater Developed

First Posted: Jun 30, 2017 03:43 AM EDT

Scientists have developed electrodes that could clean pollutants in wastewater. These electrodes are coated with a conductive polymer referred to as PEDOT. This discovery could make the cleaning wastewater more efficient and inexpensive too.

The research was published in the Journal of Power Sources. It was led by scientists and bioelectrochemical engineers from Cornell University, according to Science Daily.

So, how does it work? Once the nanofiber electrodes were coated with PEDOT, an electrically active layer of bacteria known as Geobacter sulfurreducen, they grow to generate electricity and transport electrons to the novel electrode. Then, the nanofibers produce a surface for this bacteria and absorb the contaminants from the wastewater and produce electricity, too.

The electrode is an electrical conductor that could be in contact with a nonmetallic part of a circuit such as an electrolyte, air, semiconductor or a vacuum. In the electrochemical cell, the electrode could either be an anode or cathode. The anode is indicated by a minus symbol. Meanwhile, the cathode is indicated by a plus symbol. The electrode could either be anode or cathode depending on the direction of the current in the cell.

Juan Guzman, a co-lead author and a doctoral candidate in the field of biological and environmental engineering, said that electrodes are expensive to create now. This material could bring the prize of electrodes way down and could make it easier to clean up polluted water. The nanofiber electrode looks like a kitchen scrubber as seen in a microscope.

Meanwhile, Meryem Pehlivaner, a doctoral student at Northeastern University, and Margaret Frey, the senior author and a professor of fiber science and an associate dean of the College of Human Ecology, made the electrode. Pehlivaner manufactured the carbon nanofibers through the processes of carbonization and electrospinning. Then, after electrospinning for a few hours, the thick nanofiber sheet was developed.

This customized carbon nanofiber electrode was then used for its high absorbency, surface area and biocompatibility with the bacteria. It was also enhanced by applying the PEDOT to make the material more efficient. 

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