From: Lizabeth Paulat, Care2, More from this Affiliate
Published April 18, 2016 06:56 AM

Microbots Could Play Key Role in Cleaning Up Our Water Systems

What if we could not only clean up the heavy metals in our water systems, but also recycle those metals and reuse them?

new study from the Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Spain suggests that, soon, we might be doing just that.

Scientists have developed microbots with the ability to clean up 95 percent of heavy metal waste from water systems within an hour.

Microbots, essentially tiny robots, are designed for specific purposes. Most — like the ones in this study — are smaller in diameter than a strand of human hair.

Made of three layers, the microbots propel themselves around polluted waterways, picking up lead along the way. They can be rounded up using a magnetic pull, and once back on dry land, the lead ions can be taken from the microbot and re-purposed.

“This work is a step toward the development of smart remediation system where we can target and remove traces of pollutant without producing an additional contamination,” coauthor Samuel Sanchez told

The team’s tests showed that microbots reduced lead counts from 1,000 parts per billion (ppb) to just 50 ppb within an hour.

And keep in mind that these microbots can then shed this lead safely and be reused within the same ecosystem.

For a real life application, we can look at the city of Flint, Michigan. Flint suffered one of the worst water crises in modern American history. By EPA standards there shouldn’t be any more than five ppb of lead in our water systems. In Flint, however, the numbers were extraordinarily high.

According to the Washington Post, when Virginia Tech researchers took 30 flow readings, “more than half of the readings came in at more than 1,000 ppb. Some came in above 5,000 — the level at which EPA considers the water to be “toxic waste.””

In disbelief, scientists attempted the readings from the same sources again — and the results that came back unchanged. The highest reading measured 13,000 ppb.

Both state and national entities have funneled millions of dollars into the city to address the crisis. However, as of today, the water has not been declared safe to consume.

When lead levels create a toxic waste environment, microbots could become a lifesaver.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

Polluted river image via Shutterstock.

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