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SIM-QPla: Quantum leap in microplastics analysis

Detecting microplastics in environmental samples, such as wastewater, is a complex process. With the SIM-QPla research project, partners from research and industry have therefore joined forces to develop mobile analysis methods in order to facilitate this process and to be able to detect microplastics even in small quantities. SIM-QPla, which has a project volume of over 2.7 million euro, is funded by the Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF) at 77.2 per cent over three years.

Quantum technology

“Mobile detection methods for microplastics are in high demand. However, there is currently no supply, as the measuring devices are too large and not robust enough. We want to change that with the SIM-QPla project by developing the basis for mobile measuring devices that can be used on a large scale,” explains Dr Jens Reiber, project coordinator and microplastics expert at the consulting, analysis and testing company WESSLING. The sources of microplastics in the environment include industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants, which are not yet able to completely filter out the particles. This is exactly where SIM-QPla comes in and focuses on treated wastewater that is discharged into the environment. 

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Developing a new class of MIR spectrometers

Currently, the detection and analysis of microplastic particles in water is mainly based on MIR spectroscopy. Here, the absorption of light in the mid-infrared range (MIR) by plastic particles is used to detect and classify the small particles. This is a comparatively complex procedure that the partners in the SIM-QPla project want to revolutionise. The goal is to create the technological basis for a new class of MIR spectrometers. These should be both compact and robust and thus open completely new possibilities for environmental analysis. This is achieved by using entangled photons, which make MIR detectors unnecessary in the MIR spectrometer. One objective is to use this technology to detect even small amounts of microplastics in water samples, for examples, without costly sample preparation. The samples are measured with the photons in the MIR range. “Detection can thus take place in the near infrared range, and here, in contrast to the MIR range, the detectors and cameras are available at low cost,” Reiber emphasises further advantages.

The research project is part of the BMBF's funding programme “Quantum Technologies – from the Basics to the Market”. The project partners are WESSLING GmbH, Eagleyard Photonics GmbH, Westphalia DataLab GmbH, Ferdinand-Braun-Institut GmbH, Leibniz-Institute for High Frequency Technology, Humboldt University Berlin, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster.

Would you like to find out more about the SIM-QPla project? Click here for the project page.

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Funding code: 13N15939

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