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Development of electrospun lignin nanofibers for the adsorption of pharmaceutical contaminants in wastewater

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Emerging contaminants present a challenge for water preservation, threatening humans’ health and all ecosystems. They consist of a variety of molecules ranging from pharmaceutical and personal care products to pesticides and endocrine disruptors detectable in wastewater, sewage effluent, surface water, drinking water, and ground waters at trace level concentrations (e.g., ng/L, μg/L). Conventional wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) possess low efficiency to remove them. Therefore, new technologies capable of removing such residues are needed. Lignin recognized as a renewable and abundant biopolymer is transformed through electrospinning into an anionic nanofibrous nonwoven adsorbent to extract those contaminants and dispose them safely. Electrospinning allows the manufacture of fibers at the micro- or nanoscale under the influence of an electric current. In this study, nanofibers of alkali lignin and a co-polymer, poly(vinyl alcohol), were developed and tested on the adsorption of a pharmaceutical contaminant (fluoxetine) in an aqueous solution. Results showed that the lignin nanofibers, of 156 nm in diameter, adsorbed 70% of fluoxetine in solution which corresponds to 32 ppm of contaminants removed in water.

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Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Fond de Recherche du Québec-Nature et Technologies are gratefully acknowledged for their financial support during this project. A special thanks is addressed to Agnes Lejeune for her assistance during the collection of SEM images. All technicians at the UQTR are acknowledged for their technical support during this project.

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Correspondence to André Lajeunesse.

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An advanced innovative wastewater treatment with biopolymer lignin is proposed for the removal of pharmaceutical contaminants. The resulting nanofibers manufactured by electrospinning process enable the removal of 70% of fluoxetine (32 ppm) in less than 60 min.

Responsible editor: Tito Roberto Cadaval Jr

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Camiré, A., Espinasse, J., Chabot, B. et al. Development of electrospun lignin nanofibers for the adsorption of pharmaceutical contaminants in wastewater. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27, 3560–3573 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-018-3333-z

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  • Lignin
  • Electrospinning
  • Poly(vinyl alcohol)
  • Pharmaceutical contaminants
  • Wastewater
  • Nanofibers
  • Adsorption