Study shows how engineered nanomaterials degrade and persist in environment

7 September 2021

A new study has found that exposing certain nanomaterials to light can influence their environmental transformation, fate and, ultimately, their toxicity.

The discovery provides insights into how engineered nanomaterials may be better designed for commercial applications without impacting the environment or human health.

The researchers examined graphitic carbon nitride, an emerging engineered nanomaterial that has been extensively considered for water treatment, air purification, antimicrobials, energy storage, electronics, biomedical therapy and more. The nanomaterial was previously believed to be highly stable and only decomposed in the presence of hydroxyl radicals, the most powerful oxidant in water.

However, the team found that decomposition the nanomaterial breaks down rapidly when exposed to light, but decomposes slowly in the absence of light. According to the researchers, this should raise concerns about the perceived stability of the nanomaterial and industry's potential use of it.

The authors of the report say that “This discovery not only sheds light on the unique environmental transformation of emerging photoreactive nanomaterials but also provides guidelines for designing robust nanomaterials for engineering applications.”