Nanocellulose from Invasive Plants for H2O Filters

EPA Grant Number: SU836771
Title: Nanocellulose from Invasive Plants for H2O Filters
Investigators: Craver, Vinka A
Institution: University of Rhode Island
EPA Project Officer: Sergeant, Anne
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2016 through August 31, 2017
Project Amount: $14,890
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2016) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , P3 Awards , P3 Challenge Area - Water


Extract nanocellulose crystals and fibers from low-value biomass from invasive terrestrial plants and algal biomass from algal blooms, and generate a high-value water filter.  Project will also help manage invasive species.


The objective of this study is to extract nanocellulose crystals and fibers from low-value environmental waste products that are available throughout the planet, such as biomass from invasive terrestrial plants and algal biomass from algal blooms, as well as the husks of commonly cultivated crops and generate a high-value water filter. An added benefit is that using these plants and algae as raw material is an environmental management approach for the control of the undesirable growth of invasive species due to climate change.

Specific objectives of this research are:

  1. Development and optimization of an extraction method for nanocrystals and nanofibers of cellulose from locally sourced plant tissue (marine and terrestrial);
  2. Functionalization of the nanocellulose for the manufacturing of membranes and filters for drinking water and wastewater purification applications;
  3. Evaluation of the possible (eco)toxicological effects of nanocellulose extraction and disposal on freshwater ecosystems.


The research plan will consist of three parts: Part 1 will focus on the acquisition of macroalgal material through harvesting and/or culturing and common invasive or commonly cultivated plants in developing countries. Part 2 will involve the process of extraction of nanocellulose from raw material and the development of the filter and/or membrane. Lastly, Part 3 will entail efficiency testing of the filter and possible negative environmental impacts.

The use of algal biomass for the extraction of nanocellulose is a relatively new application that is the focus of a limited number of studies. To make this approach viable in areas that are not in proximity of coastal areas the use of terrestrial invasive species and waste material from commonly cultured crops will also be included in this project. Cellulose nanomaterials’ inherent fibrous nature and remarkable mechanical properties, coupled with their low cost, biocompatibility, and sustainable sourcing, suggests huge potential as a component in water and wastewater filtration technology, as well as electronic and medical devices (Klemm et al. 2009; Klemm et al. 2011; Rashid et al. 2013). Here we plan to assess the development of nanocellulose-based filters functionalized with antimicrobial compounds, for drinking water and wastewater purification uses. 

This inexpensive, relatively low-technology water-purification technique potentially has tremendous ramifications not only for our state but also for developing countries.

Expected Results:

This project will develop of an innovative management approach for the control of undesirable invasive plant species through the extraction of nanocellulose crystals and fibers for water filters manufacturing. The international interdisciplinary research team will determine the nanocellulose production yields from vegetable materials in Rhode Island and South Africa. For the purpose of this project, algae present in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island macroalgal blooms, terrestrial invasive plant species that are abundant in other continents and countries (South Africa), and commonly cultured crops in (developing) countries (e.g. corn or rice) will be used. Additionally, we will optimize the extraction of nanocellulose and filter manufacturing in terms of economic and environmental constraints. Finally, the environmental implications of this novel product will be assessed through ecotoxicological assays in freshwater environments. The environmental implications of the development of this novel product will be assessed with ecotoxicological assays in freshwater environments. These ecotoxicological assays will determine if the developed product has any adverse effects that would limit its usefulness in real-world applications like water purification; for example, whether the developed product releases toxins into aquatic environments. This study has the potential to open new economic opportunities through the extraction of valuable material from nuisance algae and invasive terrestrial plants. This research will also support two early-career female researchers, one master’s student, one Ph.D. student and two undergraduate students that will be trained in state-of-the-art technologies for the characterization of these new materials. In addition, the international collaboration of this project could lead to further educational opportunities (i.e. exchange studies) that would benefit both partners.

Supplemental Keywords:

drinking water, water filtration, pathogens, deactivation, functionalization, nanoparticles, invasive species, climate change;