Microplastics are a threat to wildlife, but you may be staring at the solution to this problem during your breakfast. Princeton researchers used egg whites to create a lightweight, porous airgel that can remove microplastics and salts from seawater. When you freeze-dry and heat the whites (up to 1,652F) in an oxygen-free space, their purified protein system creates a mixture of carbon fibers and graphene plate can remove 99% of small plastic from water and 98% of salt. Even scrambled eggs and whipped eggs work well.
As you can imagine, a readily available organic material like this has its benefits. It’s cheap to build and only requires gravity to work. It will not consume excess energy or water. Activated charcoal is cheap but not nearly as effective as egg white gel. And while eggs from the grocery store have spurred the breakthrough, you can use other types of protein without cutting down on the population’s food supply.
Aerogel is not yet ready for widespread use. Scientists need to perfect the production process before mass production. If that happens, however, the consequences are obvious. It would be relatively easy to remove microplastics and otherwise clean up the water while minimizing the impact on the environment. While salt removal can cause problems in the ocean, it can be very useful for desalination in areas where fresh water is difficult to find.
There are other purposes, for that matter. Gels can also be useful for energy storage and insulation, so don’t be surprised if you one day find egg-like proteins in your walls.
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