Exploration and Optimization of Separation Techniques for the Removal of Microplastics from Marine Sediments during Dredging Operations

Michiel Van Melkebeke
Deze thesis evalueert en optimaliseert scheidingstechnieken voor de verwijdering van microplastics uit mariene sedimenten. Voor het eerst werd onderzoekt verricht naar de technologische verwijdering van vervuilende microplastics. Finaal werd een innovatieve scheidingstechniek ontwikkeld die aan de hand van een synergie met de baggerindustrie mogelijkheden biedt naar praktische, grootschalige implementatie.

Let’s start fighting global marine microplastic pollution!

Begin de strijd tegen wereldwijde mariene microplastic vervuiling!

Meer dan 8 miljoen ton. Dat is de hoeveelheid plastic afval dat jaarlijks zijn weg vindt naar onze oceanen, waar het uiteenvalt in kleine plastic deeltjes genaamd ‘microplastics’. Recent wetenschappelijk onderzoek heeft de wereld wakker geschud over de massale aanwezigheid van microplastics in het mariene milieu en hun mogelijke gevolgen voor mens en ecosysteem. Terwijl op heden het onderzoek naar de aanwezigheid en effecten van microplastics erg populair geworden is, ontbreekt elk onderzoek naar hoe we ze kunnen verwijderen.

Deze thesis biedt een antwoord op dit gebrek door de ontwikkeling van de eerste scheidingstechniek die mariene microplastics succesvol kan verwijderen uit zeebodemsediment, dé locatie waar ze zich voor meer dan 90% bevinden.

The Plastic Age

De productie van plastic is de voorbije 50 jaar met een factor 20 toegenomen. Tegenwoordig wordt er jaarlijks niet minder dan 350 miljoen ton plastic geproduceerd. Daarvan komt er elk jaar gemiddeld 8 miljoen ton in onze oceanen terecht. Dat komt overeen met meer dan 3000 keer het gewicht van het Atomium! Bovendien is plastic een bijzonder resistent materiaal dat nauwelijks tot niet afbreekbaar is. Zo wordt voorspeld dat er tegen 2050 meer plastic in onze oceanen zal zitten dan dat er vissen in zwemmen. “Hoog tijd voor actie!”, klinkt de boodschap. Zowel het voorkomen dat plastic afval in het milieu terechtkomt als initiatieven om ze eruit te halen, staan hierbij centraal.

Micro-plastics, Macro-pollutants

Eens terecht gekomen in het mariene milieu, breken grote stukken plastic afval af tot kleine plastic deeltjes, zogenaamde microplastics, onder de invloed van zonlicht en ruwe weersomstandigheden. Daarnaast kunnen mariene microplastics ook afkomstig zijn van de slijtage van autobanden of de verf van bijvoorbeeld wegmarkeringen, waarbij ze worden weggespoeld met het regenwater en via waterlopen en rivieren in de zee belanden. Maar ook huishoudens dragen rechtstreeks bij tot de toename van mariene microplastics: via cosmeticaproducten zoals scrubs en tandpasta, alsook via het wassen van synthetische kleding, komen kleine plastic deeltjes en vezels terecht in het afvalwater en uiteindelijk in het mariene milieu. 

Deze mariene microplastics verspreiden zich doorheen onze oceanen en concentreren zich in welbepaalde regio’s waaronder de befaamde ‘plasticsoep’ in de Stille Oceaan. Opmerkelijk is echter dat de meeste microplastics niet nabij het wateroppervlak drijven, maar zinken naar de bodem en opstapelen in het zeebodemsediment. Dit betekent dat het grootste deel van de mariene microplastic vervuiling zich verschuilt onder het wateroppervlak. 

Large plastics, large problems. Small plastics, larger problems?

“Welke gevolgen hebben deze microplastics nu voor mens en milieu?”, vraagt u zich misschien af. Wel, net zoals groot plastic problemen veroorzaakt bij grote dieren, denk maar aan walvissen die aanspoelen met tientallen kilogram plastic afval in hun maag, veroorzaakt klein plastic problemen bij kleine dieren. Het is zo dat plastic deeltjes worden verward met voedsel, waardoor tal van problemen kunnen optreden met het maagdarmstelsel van het dier of organisme. Zo kunnen plastic deeltjes vast komen te zitten in het darmkanaal of kunnen schadelijke chemicaliën vrijkomen. Dit kan desastreuze gevolgen hebben zoals een verstoring van de reproductie of zelfs sterfte.

Kleine dieren zoals plankton, wormen en schelpen worden op deze manier negatief beïnvloed door mariene microplastics. Zij maken bovendien deel uit van de basis van de voedselketen. Dit betekent dat alle dieren die rechtstreeks of onrechtstreeks deze kleine dieren gebruiken als voedsel, microplastics opnemen in hun lichaam. Dit omvat allerhande vissen en watervogels, maar ook onszelf, de mens. Zo bevat een gemiddelde portie mosselen al snel 90 microplastics! 

Time for action

Deze wereldwijde problematiek rond mariene microplastics werd succesvol in kaart gebracht door recent wetenschappelijk onderzoek. Toenemende ongerustheid dwingt maatregelen af om de hoeveelheid plastic afval tegen te gaan. Plastic rietjes verdwijnen uit de supermarkten en het hergebruik van plastic producten wordt aangemoedigd. Maar de aanhoudende groei in plastic productie en de enorme hoeveelheden microplastics die ophopen in het mariene milieu eisen meer maatregelen. 

Daarom is het hoog tijd dat ingezet wordt op de actieve verwijdering van microplastics uit het mariene milieu. Om dit zo doeltreffend mogelijk aan te pakken, stellen we onszelf 2 vragen:

Vraag 1: waar is de concentratie van microplastics het hoogst?

Het antwoord is in het sediment. Via rivieren en langsheen stranden komen microplastics terecht in het mariene milieu. Meer dan 90% van deze mariene microplastics zinken en stapelen zich op in het zeebodemsediment.

Vraag 2: hoe kunnen microplastics hieruit efficiënt afgezonderd worden? 

Het antwoord is door een innovatieve scheidingstechniek te ontwikkelen die gekoppeld kan worden aan gangbare baggeractiviteiten. Onder baggeractiviteiten vallen de onderhoudswerken aan havens, rivieren en langsheen stranden die in België elk jaar verantwoordelijk zijn voor de verplaatsing van meer dan 10 miljoen ton sediment. In dit sediment bevinden er zich naar schatting meer dan 4200 miljard microplastics! 

Aan de hand van deze 2 antwoorden werd een eerste evaluatie gemaakt van potentiële scheidingstechnieken die microplastics zouden kunnen verwijderen uit sediment tijdens het baggeren. Hieruit werden de 2 meest beloftevolle technieken geselecteerd en zowel kwalitatief als kwantitatief geanalyseerd op hun scheidingsprestatie. 

Yes, we can! 

Deze thesis is er finaal in geslaagd om de efficiëntie van een conventionele scheidingstechniek te voorspellen bij verschillende sedimenttypes gecontamineerd met microplastics, maar belangrijker nog om een innovatieve scheidingstechniek te ontwikkelen die op basis van luchtbellen microplastics succesvol kan scheiden uit gebaggerd sediment. Door de koppeling met baggeractiviteiten worden de microplastics afgezonderd daar waar hun concentratie het hoogst is, net voor ze zich wereldwijd verspreiden en onze oceanen onomkeerbaar vervuilen. Bovendien functioneert het oppompen van sediment tijdens gangbare baggeractiviteiten ook als invoer van de scheidingsinstallatie. Deze waardevolle synergie biedt interessante mogelijkheden naar de praktische en economische haalbaarheid van deze technologische verwijdering van mariene microplastics. 

Met andere woorden: grootschalige en doeltreffende scheiding van microplastics uit het mariene milieu is mogelijk, mits toepassing van de correcte scheidingstechniek en het creatief omspringen met de aanwezige industriële activiteiten. Het kan, dus tijd voor actie!

image 284

FiguurConceptuele illustratie van de innovatieve scheidingstechniek ontwikkeld in deze thesis met het oog op de bestrijding van de wereldwijde mariene microplastic vervuiling, en dit tijdens gangbare baggeractiviteiten.

__PRESENT

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__PRESENT

Universiteit of Hogeschool
Bio-ingenieurswetenschappen: Milieutechnologie
Publicatiejaar
2019
Promotor(en)
Prof. Dr. Colin Janssen en Prof. Dr. Ir. Steven De Meester
Kernwoorden
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