Plastics became widespread after the second World War, and as a material, plastic is still relatively young. Microscopic plastic particles, or microplastics, have caught the eye of researchers only quite recently. Microplastics come with plenty of questions, but for the time being, only few answers are available.
“Microplastics are a Pandora’s Box of a kind, or at least an infinite source of research questions. However, research evidence relating to microplastics and their effects remains scarce,” says Researcher Samuel Hartikainen from the University of Eastern Finland. His research focuses on the chemical properties of microplastics.
Whirlpools of plastics and microplastics in oceans have received plenty of attention in the media. However, microplastic concentrations in lakes and other closed bodies of water may be higher than in oceans, where the water flows freely.
“Microplastics are present in practically all bodies of water, although the remotest ones haven’t been scientifically studies, of course. We can nevertheless assume that airborne microplastics have found their way also in these waters,” says Research Manager Arto Koistinen, who also studies microplastics chemistry.
Microscopic particles of plastic have also been found in the intestines of fish and other seafood. Microplastics aren’t poisonous as such, but they are known to absorb hormone disruptors and heavy metals. So, can microplastics find their way on our plates, and can hazardous materials absorbed by microplastics make our food poisonous?
Lithium-ion batteries are a rapidly growing energy storage method due to their high energy density, especially in mobile applications such as personal electronics and electric cars. However, the materials currently used in Li-ion batteries are expensive, many of them, like lithium cobalt oxide (belonging to the EU Critical Raw Materials, CRMs), are difficult to handle and dispose of. Additionally, batteries using these materials have relatively short lifetimes.
New novel materials are being developed for next generation Li-ion batteries. One promising anode-cathode material pair is lithium titanate countered by lithium iron phosphate. The raw materials for these components are readily available; and they are safe to use, and easy to dispose of or recycle. And most importantly, batteries manufactured using these materials have significantly longer cycle and calendar lifetimes compared to the current battery technology. However, the main problem of these new materials is their low electric conductivity.
A study by University of Eastern Finland scientists opens up new electricity storage applications. The results were published recently in the Journal of Alloys and Compounds, which has a large audience especially in Asian countries, where most of the Li-ion battery manufacturing takes place currently.
“The electric conductivity problem can be solved by producing nanosized, high surface area crystalline materials, or by modifying the material composition with highly conductive dopants. We have succeeded in doing both for lithium titanate (LTO) in a simple, one-step gas phase process developed here at the UEF Fine Particle and Aerosol Technology Laboratory,” says Researcher Tommi Karhunen.
The University of Eastern Finland (Finnish: Itä-Suomen yliopisto) is a university in Finland with three campuses in Joensuu, Kuopio, and Savonlinna.
It was formed in 2010 by a merger of two previously independent universities.
The University of Eastern Finland is a multidisciplinary university which is internationally recognised for its competitive research and education. The four faculties of the UEF offer teaching in nearly 100 major subjects and degree programmes. The university’s annual student intake is approximately 2,200 and the university attracts nearly 9,500 applications for admission every year. The university of offers Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral level education in 13 fields of study: pharmacy, dentistry, humanities, education, economics and business administration, natural sciences, medicine, forest sciences, psychology, theology, health sciences, social sciences, and law.
The University of Eastern Finland has three areas of expertise in research: Forests and the Environment, Health and Well-Being, and New Technologies and Materials.