Rubia Gouveia works at the National Nanotechnology Laboratory (LNNano), part of the National Center for Research in Energy and Materials, linked to the MCTI.

    An ecological foam that has the power to clean up the oceans: this is the research developed by scientist Rubia Figueredo Gouveia from the National Nanotechnology Laboratory (LNNano), which is part of the National Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), a social organization linked to the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation.

    The product created at CNPEM /MCTI uses nanocellulose and latex and can absorb volumes of pollutants up to 50 times its size. In addition, the product is 100% natural and reusable and can be an important tool in cleaning up pollution actions involving oils and solvents in the oceans.

    Rubia Gouveia has a degree in chemistry from the State University of Maringá (PR), and during her postdoctoral studies in Campinas (SP), she was hired by LNNano. We had a chat with the researcher as she could speak more about the project.

    MCTI - How does this 'green' foam that cleanses the oceans work?
    The material is obtained from nanocellulose fibrils, and natural rubber latex combination; all of them are extracted from renewable and abundant sources. In this way, the foam is 100% 'green'. The nanocellulose fibrils are grouped in a 3D structure. After being covered and adhered to by latex, they end up reorganizing themselves into a more robust porous structure, interconnecting and contributing both to the strength and stability of the material, as well as to greater absorption of the pollutants. Nanocellulose alone is not stable in water as it has a high affinity for water and therefore breaks down in the water. In this way, latex is essential to keep the foam stable as well as it introduces hydrophobicity to the material, so that, it allows the foam to capture hydrophobic pollutants such as oils and organic solvents.

    MCTI - How did the idea for this technology come about?
    I have been working on this theme at CNPEM, using materials obtained from renewable sources since 2016. The general idea is to use these materials in the application of green technologies for various applications. We work with various materials extracted from plants, such as cellulose and lignin (sugarcane bagasse, eucalyptus) and natural rubber latex (rubber tree). The idea of É<ÉFrom that moment, we did the first tests and it worked, being very promising in this environmental remediation application. However, the road is long until we have reproducible results and establish the best conditions for the synthesis of materials. Only in 2019, we were able to protect this technology in a patent application.

    MCTI - How was your idea received in the scientific community?
    The idea was well-received by the community, being widely publicized from the end of last year. I particularly believe that the environmental appeal of using green materials to produce new materials is very appealing to the whole community, not just the scientific community. From a scientific point of view, the news was very well received, where the article was featured on the cover of the ACS Applied Nano Materials magazine for November 2020.

    MCTI - What is the importance in the world today of developing technologies that help in environmental preservation?
    It is an extremely relevant topic, and the future tends to be in the search of 'green' technologies that help us in environmental remediation. Brazil is a very rich country in biomass, and producing materials from biomass, even more, when they are directly used for environmental preservation, is very valuable. As Brazil is a large producer of biomass, it allows us to use these residues and in some cases by-products of the industry, for the production of new materials, with greater added value, so we can increase the potential use of these residues. Brazil is the fourth-largest producer of plastic waste in the world (according to FAPESP magazine in July 2019), and around 80% of this waste accumulates in landfills and nature. In summary, using materials from renewable sources, even in the partial replacement of materials originating from fossil sources, regardless of the application, already helps us in environmental preservation, and it will be a future tendency.

    MCTI - How can nanotechnology help science in the development of technologies that can benefit the environment?
    Creating nanostructures is a great advantage for several applications. For example, when we have a structure and we can advance in the production of that same structure, but on a nanometric scale, that is, this structure is the same in terms of composition, but its size is nanometric, we achieve improvements in mechanical and electrical properties, magnetic among others. In addition to saving material use, we achieve better properties with less quantity. Making an analogy to foam for environmental decontamination, when we work with nanometric structures, we get material with greater surface area, that is, we have more active sites to capture pollutants. In addition, the production of nanopores can allow the capture of other pollutants of nanometric sizes, which are present in contaminated water, with viruses, among other pollutants. In addition to material size, nanoscale characterization tools allow us to advance knowledge of the material, enabling the creation of new materials.

    MCTI - What is the importance of encouraging young people and children in the research production in this environmental sense?
    This new generation already has in its DNA a concern with environmental issues. I see children concerned about properly disposing of garbage. I think this is very beautiful and this is evolving over the generations. I believe it is vital to encourage our young people and children in research related to environmental issues, both in applications and materials production of a sustainable source. It is becoming a natural trend, and thinking about availability, Brazil is very rich in biomass. Another point is the economic issue and high values É<É
    MCTI - How do you see today the promotion and encouragement for young people to become researchers in the country?
    We are currently living through a difficult time, in terms of financial resources invested in research and, especially, new opportunities for young researchers. Brazil has lost several of them, who went to develop a career abroad. This incentive depends heavily on the financial resources invested. I strongly emphasize the need for investments in human resources through undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral scholarships where we make new researchers.

    MCTI - Do you consider your work to be an inspiration for future generations?
    Yes, I believe that this environmental 'footprint' attracts people a lot. The search for sustainable technologies comes from the solution of several environmental problems being a future trend, and I believe that this will impact new generations.