Equip your Genius

Welcome to the Parallax Discussion Forums, sign-up to participate.

Estimate the concentration of microplastic in sea water

Posts: 10
Hello everyone

It is my fisrt time here, so be gentle =)

I'm building a system to estimate the concentration of microplastic in a tank full of sea water. The concentration of plastic will increase over time, as the water is filtered and return plastic free to the sea. When a concentration is reached, the plastic will be drained from the tank.

I am still in the comceptual phase, before making a new sensor for that, I'd like to know if there are products available to use or to at least help validate some hypothesis.

There are a few parameters I am considering to estimate the concentration of plastic in salt water: thrust, capacitancy and voltage drop. Please few free to sugegst any other as well as what I can use to do so.

Thanks
«1

Comments

• 39 Comments sorted by Date Added Votes
• Posts: 4,588
I'm gonna guess as the plastic concentration increases it'll start clogging the water return filter. You'll get a pressure differential forming across that filter which will be easy to measure.
The Prisoner's Dilemma, in english - "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups." - Quoted part from 2007, D.S Wilson/E.O Wilson.
• Posts: 21,584
Could you pass a known volume of seawater through a microfilter and weigh the precipitate? Or boil away the water, weigh what's left, and subtract the salt content, given the known salinity?

-Phil
Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
• Posts: 9,015
What about acoustic means?

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball! @opengeekorg ---> Be Excellent To One Another SKYPE = acuity_doug
Parallax colors simplified: http://forums.parallax.com/showthread.php?123709-Commented-Graphics_Demo.spin<br>
• Posts: 1,413
edited February 2017
I found this in a Google search. I have gone back to my hometown and seen a pronounced 'bathtub ring' accompanied by an odor in the local bay where I grew up.

Larry

If the grass is greener on the other side...it's time to water your lawn.
• Posts: 1,873
It looks to me the hardest part is to make sure you only filter out plastics, how do you plan to not measure other natural sediments?
• Posts: 7,712
You may want to take a look at instruments and methods that use light scattering/reflection to measure particle concentrations.
In science there is no authority. There is only experiment.
Life is unpredictable. Eat dessert first.
• Posts: 10
evanh wrote: »
I'm gonna guess as the plastic concentration increases it'll start clogging the water return filter. You'll get a pressure differential forming across that filter which will be easy to measure.

Genius! I have not thought about it. I don't have details about the filtering system, but it can indeed be the easiest way.

Thanks =)
• Posts: 10
Could you pass a known volume of seawater through a microfilter and weigh the precipitate? Or boil away the water, weigh what's left, and subtract the salt content, given the known salinity?

-Phil

We can do that in lab, but the system will be monted in open ocean in a bouncing plataform with limited power supply (solar powered). That makes difficult to use weigh as a parameter (the extra acceleration from the waves will add too much noise) and to boil water would be a not optimal use of energy.
• Posts: 10
potatohead wrote: »
What about acoustic means?

could you detail more what you mean? Please
• Posts: 10
tonyp12 wrote: »
It looks to me the hardest part is to make sure you only filter out plastics, how do you plan to not measure other natural sediments?

The filtering happens in oppen sea, so far other sedments than bioplancton were not registered as relevant. Does that answers your question?
• Posts: 10
kwinn wrote: »
You may want to take a look at instruments and methods that use light scattering/reflection to measure particle concentrations.

A friend recommended me something similar, the problem of using light is that the plastics have different shapes and colors (including transparent), I have not tried anything alike so far, but I'm afraid that the results will not be really accurate as the plastic composition changes over time.
• Posts: 6,175
Maybe conductivity, differential between unfiltered sea water and the water in the tank. Although, the plastic concentration might have to be pretty high before it has much effect. Don't know.

You are right about the difficulties of a nephelometer to measure turbidity. While it is a go-to instrument for that purpose, it has to be calibrated for each use case. Standard calibrations against formazin are next to useless for conversion to mass units or for help in distinguishing, say, red mud from fine sand from plankton.

I like the differential pressure idea. How big are these microplastics, anyway? Like 10s of micrometers or what?
• Posts: 21,584
edited February 2017
Since suspended microplastics are still solid, they will have a different acoustic index than that of seawater. That means that they will disperse sonic waves of the right wavelength. If you pick a sonic or ultrasonic frequency whose wavelength in seawater is smaller than the millimeter scale of the microplastics, but larger than the scale of plankton or suspended sediment, I think you should be able to estimate the concentration of microplastics by measuring the sonic dispersion.

This could be done by positioning a narrow-beam sending transducer across from an array of receiving transducers. By measuring the relative response of the transducers at an angle from the beam, compared to the one straight ahead, you might be able to estimate the concentration of the microplastics, independently of the smaller stuff that's in suspension. The additional advantage of this is that it could be done in situ, without having to draw samples into a vessel for analysis.

Going even further, if you are able to sweep the frequency of the sending transducer, you might also be able to estimate the size distribution of the suspended microplastics.

-Phil
Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
• Posts: 156
In private industry & military contract I once worked on, I have tried all the above (filtering, light scattering and all the rest) Sea water is full of "stuff" and it comes in all sizes (micro to Minnows LOL) Your regular methods probably will not work. The best solution (used by the military for the nasty stuff) is a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) It is able to distinguish many organic and in-organic particles, it is very highly selective. The down side is that you have to have a calibration sample of the contaminate you are looking for. A savvy engineer can get down to Parts per Billion this way.
• Posts: 9,015
What about acoustic means?
zuanazzi wrote: »
potatohead wrote: »
What about acoustic means?

could you detail more what you mean? Please

Was just a thought hit me when I read your project. Pure water will have resonances and a frequency profile. Can be known for a body of water, and it's container. Given some acoustic spectrum input, there should be a consistent response.

Does that response change with the microplastics in there? Is it differentiated from the salt / minerals in sea water?

Explore a variety of frequency / noise / pulse profiles.

Maybe suck up a quantity into the known area, allow it to rest, apply the acoustic energy in various ways, map response to indicate things other than water being in there.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball! @opengeekorg ---> Be Excellent To One Another SKYPE = acuity_doug
Parallax colors simplified: http://forums.parallax.com/showthread.php?123709-Commented-Graphics_Demo.spin<br>
• Posts: 156
A hint - You have to find something / a process that is naturally resonate (or not) to the particles you are trying to detect. Just about any particle (atom, molecule, dust & dirt, organism) has a natural surface (surface, as on the surface of a atom, molecule. dirt, organism...) resonance that can be used to measure what ever you want to measure. In practice this is ultraviolet, visible and infrared light - a spectrum of light that you can use to detect unique (light) patterns given off by contaminants, using FFT.
• Posts: 9,015
Ah, then the frequencies need to be higher. Was just a thought. :D

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball! @opengeekorg ---> Be Excellent To One Another SKYPE = acuity_doug
Parallax colors simplified: http://forums.parallax.com/showthread.php?123709-Commented-Graphics_Demo.spin<br>
• Posts: 21,584
PropGuy2 wrote:
The best solution (used by the military for the nasty stuff) is a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) It is able to distinguish many organic and in-organic particles, it is very highly selective.

FFT is just a mathematical technique used to analyze temporal or spatial data in the frequency domain. So what data are you saying it should be applied to? And what physical means do you propose using to acquire that data?

-Phil

Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
• Posts: 20,220
My question exactly. Fourier Transform of what data?

• Posts: 10
edited February 2017
Maybe conductivity, differential between unfiltered sea water and the water in the tank. Although, the plastic concentration might have to be pretty high before it has much effect. Don't know.

You are right about the difficulties of a nephelometer to measure turbidity. While it is a go-to instrument for that purpose, it has to be calibrated for each use case. Standard calibrations against formazin are next to useless for conversion to mass units or for help in distinguishing, say, red mud from fine sand from plankton.

I like the differential pressure idea. How big are these microplastics, anyway? Like 10s of micrometers or what?

It is called microplastic, but it ranges from tenths of milimeters up to tens of mililiters! I like the differential pressure idea too.

I just made an experiment on the conductivity. There is a clear relationship between plastic concentration and resistance in ohms. That would be inexpensive and rather accurate way of taking it.

Thanks for your help =)
• Posts: 10
Since suspended microplastics are still solid, they will have a different acoustic index than that of seawater. That means that they will disperse sonic waves of the right wavelength. If you pick a sonic or ultrasonic frequency whose wavelength in seawater is smaller than the millimeter scale of the microplastics, but larger than the scale of plankton or suspended sediment, I think you should be able to estimate the concentration of microplastics by measuring the sonic dispersion.

This could be done by positioning a narrow-beam sending transducer across from an array of receiving transducers. By measuring the relative response of the transducers at an angle from the beam, compared to the one straight ahead, you might be able to estimate the concentration of the microplastics, independently of the smaller stuff that's in suspension. The additional advantage of this is that it could be done in situ, without having to draw samples into a vessel for analysis.

Going even further, if you are able to sweep the frequency of the sending transducer, you might also be able to estimate the size distribution of the suspended microplastics.

-Phil

WOW! thanks!

I'll definelty keep this idea, if that woks it would be really interesting to have this data to see if the filtering is being really effective or if it is overdimentioned.
• Posts: 10
PropGuy2 wrote: »
In private industry & military contract I once worked on, I have tried all the above (filtering, light scattering and all the rest) Sea water is full of "stuff" and it comes in all sizes (micro to Minnows LOL) Your regular methods probably will not work. The best solution (used by the military for the nasty stuff) is a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) It is able to distinguish many organic and in-organic particles, it is very highly selective. The down side is that you have to have a calibration sample of the contaminate you are looking for. A savvy engineer can get down to Parts per Billion this way.

A FFT on what exactly?
• Posts: 3,675
edited February 2017
Does microplastic have any ablity to be charged electrically while submerged, then move another charged plate through the water to collect all the plastic only particles. Not sure what you would do after they are collected on a plate. Would a thin film of plastic have any opacity that can be detected/measured/viewed with a camera? maybe the measurement is done on land with a photograph of the collected plastic on a plate. Then the plate is cleaned by a method for the next test

• Posts: 21,584
It's saltwater, remember. A charged plate would get discharged instantly.

-Phil
Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
• Posts: 20,220
edited February 2017
I have no idea about plastics in sea water but...

The famous Forrest M. Mims is partly famous for making photometers out of LEDs for measuring atmospheric turbidity. And using them successfully for many years.

http://www.instesre.org/papers/Snowmass/MimsSnowmass.htm

Perhaps that helps measure gunk in sea water.
• Posts: 3,675
Frequency of the test needs to be considered if the sensor is more of a filter then can the filter be cleaned and reused or do multiple filters need to be used.
• Posts: 6,175
edited February 2017
That is promising that you got a measurable response with conductivity. I hesitated to mention conductivity, because a lot goes on between the electrodes and seawater that makes it difficult to achieve a stablity and longevity. Electrodes have to be made of a material highly resistant to corrosion, and the current through the electrodes has to be balanced, AC. A good thing in this present case is that the measurement could be differential. It could compare pure seawater as a reference with polluted seawater as the variable, and it doesn't need absolute stability. The best instrument for conductivity in seawater is a toroidal transformer comprised of side by side toroids wound on hi-µ cores. Non-contact, nothing to corrode. The conductive path through the seawater links the cores and thus coupling is proportional to conductivity.
• Posts: 10
Following up!

Thanks for all the help, it gave me quite some ideas for further developments.

However, we've got pretty good results with an ohm-meter. The resistance rises as the plastic concentration does =) For now it has results that are good enough for further study.

• Posts: 18,731
I'm late to this party and I see my top Forumista picks have already weighed in. I was even going to mention eco-friendly Forrest Mims, already mentioned here. The man is a genius and a gentleman, he replied VERY quickly to an email I sent him (saved for posterity in my Hero file). He is well worth emailing. I won't post his addy here but it is easily found on his site at http://www.forrestmims.org/home.html
"When you make a thing, a thing that is new, it is so complicated making it that it is bound to be ugly. But those that make it after you, they don’t have to worry about making it. And they can make it pretty, and so everybody can like it when others make it after you."

- Pablo Picasso
• Posts: 2,175
edited February 2017
erco wrote: »
I was even going to mention eco-friendly Forrest Mims, already mentioned here. The man is a genius and a gentleman

He was well published when I was young, and I knew his later research was directed towards our environment. A true inventor, experimenter and scientist, from the ground up.

And some of his work, is a good way to see forum software in action.

EDIT: Though it doesn't animate like I thought.
Sign In or Register to comment.