Tiny pieces of plastic are everywhere, they’ve been found on top of Mount Everest, in Antarctic ice and in our oceans - when left alone can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
These ‘microplastics’ become toxic to humans, animals and ecosystems as they absorb heavy metals and pollutants, but being less than 5mm in size are very hard to pick up and remove.
Enter scientists from the ‘University of Chemistry and Technology’ in Prague, who have developed plastic eating microbots to sort the problem.
What are microbots?
The microbots, developed by researchers, Martin Pumera and his colleagues, are the size of a red blood cell that can swim, latch on to plastics and break them down.
The star-shaped microbots don’t have wheels, flippers or engines, but self-propel forwards due to a chemical reaction when the main ingredient is exposed to sunlight.
Break down plastic
The solar-powered microbots continually move forwards, meaning they can latch onto lots of microplastic and break them down.
But how do they work? A chemical reaction takes place when the microbots come into contact with the microplastics, which breaks the plastic down. This rapidly speeds up the decomposition that happens naturally in the sun.
And to avoid the microbots themselves adding to the pollution problem, they are coated in a magnetic film, so they can be collected after doing their vital job. The microplastics that they have held onto, can then also be broken down further.
The Soumac View
Currently the technology is still in development and microbots have only been produced for a proof-of-concept study. But they do work!
The scientists still have more work to do, to ensure the microbots are always easy to recover, or better yet, fully degradable, so they can travel further without becoming pollution themselves.
The forward-thinking team are also designing microbots to target different types of microplastics, including synthetic fibres, so they can break down as much plastic as possible.
We’re excited to see how the microbots will develop over time and limit the effect of plastic on the environment. What a positive step in the right direction!
The microbots are set to be ideal for breaking down plastic in hard-to-reach locations and the scientists’ ultimate goal is to make cheap environmentally friendly robots that can be used anywhere in the world.
At Soumac, we love to see the technological developments being made across all sectors and are always on hand to support businesses with their printed circuit board assembly needs to help bring their ideas to life.
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