Letter

Rapid removal of organic micropollutants from water by a porous β-cyclodextrin polymer

  • Nature volume 529, pages 190194 (14 January 2016)
  • doi:10.1038/nature16185
  • Download Citation
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Abstract

The global occurrence in water resources of organic micropollutants, such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals, has raised concerns about potential negative effects on aquatic ecosystems and human health1,2,3,4,5. Activated carbons are the most widespread adsorbent materials used to remove organic pollutants from water but they have several deficiencies, including slow pollutant uptake (of the order of hours)6,7 and poor removal of many relatively hydrophilic micropollutants8. Furthermore, regenerating spent activated carbon is energy intensive (requiring heating to 500–900 degrees Celsius) and does not fully restore performance9,10. Insoluble polymers of β-cyclodextrin, an inexpensive, sustainably produced macrocycle of glucose, are likewise of interest for removing micropollutants from water by means of adsorption11. β-cyclodextrin is known to encapsulate pollutants to form well-defined host–guest complexes, but until now cross-linked β-cyclodextrin polymers have had low surface areas and poor removal performance compared to conventional activated carbons11,12,13. Here we crosslink β-cyclodextrin with rigid aromatic groups, providing a high-surface-area, mesoporous polymer of β-cyclodextrin. It rapidly sequesters a variety of organic micropollutants with adsorption rate constants 15 to 200 times greater than those of activated carbons and non-porous β-cyclodextrin adsorbent materials7,8,11,12,13. In addition, the polymer can be regenerated several times using a mild washing procedure with no loss in performance. Finally, the polymer outperformed a leading activated carbon for the rapid removal of a complex mixture of organic micropollutants at environmentally relevant concentrations. These findings demonstrate the promise of porous cyclodextrin-based polymers for rapid, flow-through water treatment.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Center for Sustainable Polymers (CHE-1413862). This research made use of the Cornell Center for Materials Research User Facilities, which are supported by the NSF (DMR-1120296). We acknowledge I. Keresztes for help with NMR spectroscopy, and M. Matsumoto for the design of the schematic of the polymer in Fig. 1a.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University, Baker Laboratory, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA

    • Alaaeddin Alsbaiee
    • , Brian J. Smith
    • , Leilei Xiao
    •  & William R. Dichtel
  2. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA

    • Yuhan Ling
    •  & Damian E. Helbling

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Contributions

A.A., B.J.S., and L.X., and W.R.D. designed, synthesized, and characterized the cyclodextrin polymers and their micropollutant uptake at high concentrations. Y.L. and D.E.H. designed and conducted experiments that quantified micropollutant uptake at low concentrations. All authors wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

Cornell University has filed a provisional patent application related to the new cyclodextrin polymers reported in this manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Damian E. Helbling or William R. Dichtel.

Extended data

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Figures 1-8 and Supplementary Tables 1-2.

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