Nuevo material mata al 99.9% de las bacterias en el agua potable utilizando nada más que luz solar

Investigadores en China han desarrollado una nueva forma de eliminar las bacterias del agua que dicen que es altamente eficiente y ambientalmente racional.

Al hacer brillar la luz ultravioleta en una lámina bidimensional de un compuesto llamado nitrito de carbono grafítico, el prototipo del equipo puede purificar 10 litros (2.6 galones de líquido) de agua en solo una hora, matando a casi todas las bacterias dañinas presentes.

Este tipo de técnica para la limpieza del agua se conoce como desinfección fotocatalítica, y a menudo se habla, y se investiga ardientemente , como una alternativa atractiva a los sistemas de filtración de agua actuales, como la cloración o la desinfección con ozono, ninguna de las cuales es particularmente ecológica .

Con el mundo frente a un futuro de cambio climático y escasez de agua , encontrar una manera ambiental de limpiar nuestra agua potable es de suma importancia.

"La futura aplicación de la tecnología de desinfección fotocatalítica puede aliviar significativamente la escasez de agua potable y la escasez de energía global", explica el autor principal Dan Wang.

La forma en que funciona esta tecnología es notablemente simple. Se pueden usar diversos materiales como fotocatalizadores en el agua, lo que significa que absorben la luz y aceleran (o catalizan) las reacciones de oxígeno que ocurren en el agua en presencia de ciertas longitudes de onda de la luz. Estas reacciones producen moléculas conocidas como especies reactivas de oxígeno (ROS), que son excelentes para matar microorganismos.

Hay muchos catalizadores metálicos eficientes que se pueden usar para esto, pero desafortunadamente arrojan residuos metálicos al agua. Mientras tanto, los catalizadores no metálicos, como los nanotubos y el grafeno, son más seguros, pero menos eficientes que sus contrapartes metálicos; no producen suficientes ROS para realizar el trabajo.

Ahora, los investigadores de la Academia de Ciencias de China en Beijing y la Universidad de Yangzhou (YZU) en Jiangsu creen que por fin han encontrado una solución práctica, eficiente y no tóxica.

La clave es un material sintético ultra delgado con todas las propiedades adecuadas para absorber la luz y producir suficientes ROS para matar las bacterias. El nitruro de carbono grafítico ha atraído una atención cada vez mayor a lo largo de los años debido a su potencial de almacenamiento de energía.

Usando solo luz, los investigadores encontraron que las hojas bidimensionales de este material pueden purificar rápidamente el agua contaminada. Una prueba inicial determinó la muerte del 99.9999 por ciento de todas las  bacterias Escherichia coli en una muestra de 50 mililitros en solo 30 minutos.

Eso es cinco veces más rápido que cualquier otro fotocatalizador sin metal que conocemos actualmente. Además, la reacción solo consume una décima parte del catalizador a la vez.

"Esta eficiencia notablemente alta también es comparable a la de los mejores fotocatalizadores basados ​​en metales", escriben los autores .

La eficiencia proviene de la estructura única de este material: los investigadores cargaron los bordes de las hojas con  moléculas de carboxilo  y carbonilo , lo que atrajo electrones adicionales a estos bordes.

Golpeado por la luz ultravioleta y visible, toda esta configuración produjo eficientemente un ROS que todos conocemos como peróxido de hidrógeno. Una vez en el agua, este antiséptico mata efectivamente las bacterias al romper las paredes celulares y causar estragos en su interior, antes de disociarse de manera segura en agua y oxígeno.

La mejor parte es que los autores dicen que un sistema como este no sería difícil de reproducir a gran escala. El nitruro de carbono grafítico se puede  sintetizar fácilmente a un bajo costo , y el sistema en sí es simple y económico de armar.

"La ampliación tanto para los catalizadores como para el dispositivo no es difícil", dice  Wang.

Es un buen primer paso, pero el prototipo no será suficiente por sí solo para purificar el agua de otros contaminantes.

"La purificación necesita otros dispositivos para eliminar los iones de metales pesados, ajustar el pH y eliminar los residuos", dice Wang .

"Necesitamos combinar nuestro sistema con otros para cumplir con los requisitos de purificación de agua".

Este estudio ha sido publicado en Chem .

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