Purdue University Graduate School

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Novel Microplastics Remediation Strategy Using High-Voltage Atmospheric Cold Plasma

posted on 2023-04-27, 22:57 authored by Juan VelasquezJuan Velasquez


Plastics are the most common polymers used in various industries. However, million tons of plastics are produced and disposed every year around the world, and part of them end up entering the environment and agricultural ecosystems in the form of microplastics. Microplastics have become an environmental and health threat to aquatic species and humans because they are small and can easily reach water bodies for municipal and agricultural uses. Microplastics have been traced in food commodities and products derived from animals and even found in bottles of drinking water. As an approach to permanently remediating microplastics, current microplastic degradation techniques, however, require high energy inputs and thus are generally not cost-efficient. High-voltage atmospheric cold plasma (HVACP) is a low-cost energy-efficient technology to produce highly reactive species that can induce physicochemical changes in polymers. This study, for the first time, used HVACP as a novel remediation strategy for microplastics. HVACP was generated by dielectric barrier discharge at 50 kV using oxygen, nitrogen, or their mixture as working gas. Two types of microplastics, polypropylene (PP) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE), were treated for 30 min, and the effect of 24-h post-treatment was also studied. The properties of HVACP-treated microplastics, including weight, particle size, crystallinity, melting point, carbonyl index (CI), and surface morphology, were comprehensively analyzed. HVACP treatments were found effective in degrading both PP and LDPE microplastics. A larger extent of degradation was observed with PP microplastics treated by O/N mixture plasma, but the nitrogen plasma-treated sample showed a higher degree of oxidation according to its CI. For PE microplastics, oxygen plasma caused more degradation, but post-treatment did not promote further oxidation. The results indicated two potential mechanisms for microplastic degradation by HVACP. LDPE microplastics were degraded by oxidative reactions caused by highly reactive oxygen species, and PP microplastics followed a hydrolytic pathway of degradation as they became more hydrophilic after HVACP treatment. This study proved that HVACP is a promising method for microplastic degradation, and thus has great potential for addressing the severe challenges of microplastics that the food and agriculture sectors are currently facing.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Food Science

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jen-Yi Huang

Additional Committee Member 2

Dharmendra Mishra

Additional Committee Member 3

Allen Garner