This German company manufactures whirlpools for cleaning microplastics from water


Microplastics are polluting the entire planet, from the Arctic ice to Mount Everest. The tiny particles, less than 5 millimeters in diameter, are found in the air we breathe and have been found in the human placenta, blood and lungs.

Scientists estimate that there are at least 14 million metric tons of microplastics on the ocean floor, and while all types of plastic debris are considered harmful to the environment, these are particularly difficult to detect and remove due to their small size.

German company Wasser 3.0, however, believes it may have found the answer to cleaning up microplastic pollution before it reaches the ocean – using a whirlpool and a specially developed silica gel hybrid.

The process involves creating a vortex in a tank of water. A compound is added, called Wasser 3.0 PE-X, which acts as an aggregation agent, gathering any microplastics into popcorn-shaped lumps that rise to the surface and can be removed using a sieve.

“The removal technology is very simple,” says Dr. Katrin Schuhen, inventor and founder of Wasser 3.0, adding that the process can be used on any type of water, from fresh and seawater to industrial and wastewater.

Hybrid silica gel is made of silicone-based chemicals called organosilanes and is nontoxic, Schuhen says. The organosilanes attach to the surface of the microplastic particles and, when mixed, quickly slurp together, turning into ping-pong ball-sized clusters in less than five minutes.

What is left is plastic-free water and lumps of aggregated plastic and gel that can be reused in various ways, for example as insulating filler during construction.

“By using this waste as a new source for new products, we minimize our carbon footprint and create a circular environment,” says Schuhen.

Wasser 3.0 wants the technology to be used as a new step in wastewater treatment plants or industrial processes. With current technology, microplastics from toothpaste, skin care products or clothing tend not to be filtered out of sewage works, according to the UN Environment Programme, and are released directly into the ocean, lakes or rivers.

Wasser 3.0, which was founded as a company in 2020 after starting as a university research project, is already up and running at a municipal wastewater treatment plant in Landau-Mörlheim, Germany, and a paper mill, with other industrial customers currently in operation . feasibility studies. During a 12-month trial at the Landau site, around 600 kilograms of microplastics were removed, says Schuhen.

There are other methods for removing microplastics, such as membrane filtration and dissolved air flotation, but both can be laborious and expensive, according to Schuhen. Some scientists have proposed using magnetic fluids to separate microplastics from water or sticky membranes from bacteria, but these processes are in their early stages.

Schuhen says Wasser 3.0 is an affordable, scalable and simple solution to the global problem of microplastic pollution. The company is not for profit, he adds, as it reinvests any revenue back into research.

“Our mission is to keep the world’s water supply safe,” says Schuhen.

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