Filtration of microplastics from seawater project captures nomination for provincial STEM award

26, Oct, 2023

EDMONTON, Oct. 26, 2023 – Is there an effective way to filter microplastics from seawater? For their exploration of some fresh options, including coffee grounds, an all-women former team of SAIT chemical laboratory technology students has been recognized as a finalist for the Capstone Project of the Year Award, which is presented annually by the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET).

Plastic debris less than five millimeters in length is called microplastics. Microplastics result from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastics are a serious environmental problem with human-made products being a primary contributor. Many health and beauty items people use in their daily routines (e.g. cleansers, toothpaste) contain micro particles of different plastics. These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and Great Lakes, posing a potential threat to aquatic life.

Macro plastics (larger particulates of plastics, such as plastic bottles that have been littered) can also eventually break down into these micro particulates, which makes them more difficult to eliminate.

“The main issue with plastic contamination is that it will never fully decompose; it indefinitely gets smaller and smaller,” said former SAIT team member Kaylib Tremblay. “It’s important to address this issue given the volume of plastics already in the water, and the fact that the only remediation of this is to physically remove these particulates from the water through filtration.”

Tremblay and her former teammate, Rica Contreras, investigated using three different filter media: perlite (a lightweight, granular material that is used in aeration and drainage situations); celite (a fine powder that is extremely porous and used widely in swimming pool filtration systems); and biofoam filters (biofoam filters are a fine, porous material made from a polymer, silicone elastomer, hexane, and used dried and finely ground coffee grinds).

The former teammates found that combinations of celite and perlite or celite, perlite and coffee grounds biofoam were able to filter microplastics from seawater. The biofoam, for example, successfully collected the micro particles, but the coffee within the biofoam leached into the water during filtration. With a better understanding of how to remedy this or improve production of the biofoam itself, the second combination could eventually be a viable eco-friendly product for future filtration work.

“This is another terrific example of engineering technology students pursuing Capstone Projects that serve to make the world a better place,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh.

The former SAIT team’s project is one of nine finalists for the 2023 ASET Capstone Project of the Year Award. The winning project will be announced around the end of this month.

The Capstone Project of the Year Award was established by ASET in 2017 in response to overwhelming member interest in stories about Capstone Projects undertaken by teams of engineering technology students from NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer Polytechnic, and Lethbridge College as part of their end-of-program requirements.

About ASET
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 17,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.

Media Contact:
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET


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