COVID pandemic fast-tracks technological development that will clean plastic litter in oceans. The current COVID pandemic challenges our societies with extensive amounts of plastic mask debris released into our environment. As a response to this growing issue, and to respond to the nanoparticle pollution in the water ecosystems, several technological solutions are being accelerated to achieve the overall goal – a cleaner, safer and healthier environment for everyone. InNoPlastic, a newly launched EU H2020 research and innovation project, combines ultra-sound methodologies with other innovative solutions, to tackle plastic litter and enable easier removal from oceans and the seas worldwide.

To fear or not to fear? Nanoplastics, electron microscopy image, colored, 150.000x. Empa / ETH

The images leave no one cold: giant vortices of floating plastic trash in the world's oceans with sometimes devastating consequences for their inhabitants – the sobering legacy of our modern lifestyle. Weathering and degradation processes produce countless tiny particles that can now be detected in virtually all ecosystems. But how dangerous are the smallest of them, so-called nanoplastics? Are they a ticking time bomb, as alarming media reports suggest? In the latest issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, a team from Empa and ETH Zurich examines the state of current knowledge – or lack thereof – and points out how these important questions should be addressed.

The researchers coated leaf veins with copper, thus transforming them into electrically conductive and optically transparent electrodes. Sven Döring/ Leibniz-IPHT. Leibniz-IPHT

A research team from the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena has built electrodes with outstanding optical and electronic properties from leaves. The researchers have coated leaf veins with copper and thus transformed them into electrically conductive and optically transparent electrodes. Designed on the basis of nature, the leaf-structure electrodes could be used to design novel solar cells, LEDs or displays.

The aim of the SimConDrill project is to build a cyclone filter that can efficiently remove tiny plastic particles from large quantities of water. © KLASS-Filter GmbH, Türkenfeld, Germany.

Microplastics enter our wastewater and the environment on a daily basis. Yet wastewater treatment plants struggle to filter out enough of these tiny plastic particles. Fortunately, help is on hand in the form of the SimConDrill research project, which the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been funding since 2019. Combining the expertise of five partners from industry and research, the aim of the project is to jointly develop a filter featuring tiny, laser-drilled holes that can remove plastic particles as small as 10 micrometers from wastewater. This remarkable innovation has now been nominated for the prestigious Green Award.