Metal oxide nanoparticles in electrospun polymers and their fate in aqueous waste streams

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Nanotechnology is becoming increasingly present in our environment. Engineered nanoparticles (ENPs), defined as objects that measure less than 100 nanometers in at least one dimension, are being integrated into commercial

Nanotechnology is becoming increasingly present in our environment. Engineered nanoparticles (ENPs), defined as objects that measure less than 100 nanometers in at least one dimension, are being integrated into commercial products because of their small size, increased surface area, and quantum effects. These special properties have made ENPs antimicrobial agents in clothing and plastics, among other applications in industries such as pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, and prosthetics. This thesis incorporates investigations into both application of nanoparticles into polymers as well as implications of nanoparticle release into the environment. First, the integration of ENPs into polymer fibers via electrospinning was explored. Electrospinning uses an external electric field applied to a polymer solution to produce continuous fibers with large surface area and small volume, a quality which makes the fibers ideal for water and air purification purposes. Indium oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles were embedded in polyvinylpyrrolidone and polystyrene. Viscosity, critical voltage, and diameter of electrospun fibers were analyzed in order to determine the effects of nanoparticle integration into the polymers. Critical voltage and viscosity of solution increased at 5 wt% ENP concentration. Fiber morphology was not found to change significantly as a direct effect of ENP addition, but as an effect of increased viscosity and surface tension. These results indicate the possibility for seamless integration of ENPs into electrospun polymers. Implications of ENP release were investigated using phase distribution functional assays of nanoscale silver and silver sulfide, as well as photolysis experiments of nanoscale titanium dioxide to quantify hydroxyl radical production. Functional assays are a means of screening the relevant importance of multiple processes in the environmental fate and transport of ENPs. Four functional assays – water-soil, water-octanol, water-wastewater sludge and water-surfactant – were used to compare concentrations of silver sulfide ENPs (Ag2S-NP) and silver ENPs (AgNP) capped by four different coatings. The functional assays resulted in reproducible experiments which clearly showed variations between nanoparticle phase distributions; the findings may be a product of the effects of the different coatings of the ENPs used. In addition to phase distribution experiments, the production of hydroxyl radical (HO•) by nanoscale titanium dioxide (TiO2) under simulated solar irradiation was investigated. Hydroxyl radical are a short-lived, highly reactive species produced by solar radiation in aquatic environments that affect ecosystem function and degrades pollutants. HO• is produced by photolysis of TiO2 and nitrate (NO3-); these two species were used in photolysis experiments to compare the relative loads of hydroxyl radical which nanoscale TiO2 may add upon release to natural waters. Para-chlorobenzoic acid (pCBA) was used as a probe. Measured rates of pCBA oxidation in the presence of various concentrations of TiO2 nanoparticles and NO3- were utilized to calculate pseudo first order rate constants. Results indicate that, on a mass concentration basis in water, TiO2 produces hydroxyl radical steady state concentrations at 1.3 times more than the equivalent amount of NO3-; however, TiO2 concentrations are generally less than one order of magnitude lower than concentrations of NO3-. This has implications for natural waterways as the amount of nanoscale TiO2 released from consumer products into natural waterways increases in proportion to its use.