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3D material found to break down antidepressant that contaminates water bodies worldwide

  • 3D material found to break down antidepressant that contaminates water bodies worldwide

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Agência FAPESP
Agência FAPESP is a service of the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), consisting of a free electronic news agency.

Agência FAPESP* – An article published in the Chemical Engineering Journal describes a strategy to produce a material based on zinc oxide (ZnO) capable of degrading sertraline, an antidepressant that has been detected, like other drugs, in groundwater worldwide and is considered an emerging pollutant. This kind of substance has certain physicochemical properties that hinder removal by conventional wastewater treatment methods.

The research was supported by FAPESP and conducted in Brazil by scientists at the Center for Development of Functional Materials (CDMF), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), the Federal University of Alfenas (UNIFAL) and the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB). CDMF is a Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (RIDC) funded by FAPESP and hosted by the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).

The strategy described in the article involved experimental design and microwave-assisted solvothermal synthesis (MASS) to produce hierarchical 3D ZnO photocatalysts capable of degrading sertraline with a high level of efficiency in only ten minutes. The researchers deployed principal component analysis (PCA), hitherto little used in materials synthesis, to correlate the physicochemical and photocatalytic properties of the materials with the synthetic conditions investigated. The results showed that chemometric tools yield excellent results in the study of synthetic systems that generate large amounts of experimental data.

The samples with the most potential for environmental remediation were identified. The photocatalytic activity of 3D ZnO efficiently degraded an organic dye and the emerging pollutant sertraline in natural water. The results confirmed that the 3D ZnO absorbed light energy (ultraviolet A and C) to promote efficient water photo-oxidation, producing oxidizing species that degrade organic contaminants.

Degradation performance remained high in up to five cycles of application, conserving crystal structure, morphology and other properties, while phytotoxicity assays showed that byproducts formed in the sertraline degradation process were not toxic to the organisms tested, confirming the safety of the photocatalyst for wastewater treatment.

The results of the study were competitive with other materials reported in the literature, the article concludes, showing that the materials obtained in advantageous synthetic conditions offer a genuine route to the development of novel technologies for environmental remediation of emerging pollutants in natural water.

According to Ailton Moreira, a researcher at CDMF and corresponding author of the article, improper disposal of pharmaceuticals is causing widespread contamination, he added, noting the current relevance of the topic in light of the risks to human health and the environment. The choice of sertraline was significant, he explained, because the number of studies involving the application of heterogeneous photocatalysis for sertraline degradation is very limited, and the researchers’ review of the literature found none on the use of ZnO for this purpose.

Next steps include analyzing the performance of the photocatalyst in real wastewater treatment systems to see if it breaks down sertraline and other emerging pollutants individually or in more complex mixtures such as hospital or domestic wastewater processed by sewage treatment plants. These and other researchers plan to focus on a treatment plant in Gavião Peixoto, São Paulo state.

The article “Hierarchical structure of 3D ZnO experimentally designed to achieve high performance in sertraline photocatalysis in natural water” is at:

* With information from CDMF, one of FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers.


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