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Nanobubbles: Tiny powerhouses with huge potential

Peculiarly powerful, nanobubbles have opened a new frontier in science and engineering, creating promising environmental and medical applications. But what exactly is a nanobubble? Imagine a tiny water bubble that’s 2,500 times smaller than a single grain of salt. Then imagine that bubble being extremely versatile. So versatile that it’s beginning to be used for water treatment, accelerated wound healing, and even removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

That’s a strong little bubble.

The problem? Creating nanobubbles is currently very energy-intensive and inefficient.

P.K. Andy Hong, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and his team at the University of Utah are pioneering a novel, energy-efficient process for creating nanobubbles. This process, developed in the Meldrum Civil Engineering building, has numerous promising applications.

In collaboration with Giavonni Lewis and Irma Fleming, both professors of surgery with University of Utah Health, and fellow environmental engineering professor Jennifer Weidhaas, Hong has a patent pending for this innovative energy-efficient process.

Since they’ve streamlined this difficult process, Hong’s team is among a few able to effectively research the application of nanobubble technology in environmental engineering, as well as medical applications.

Applications of various nanobubbles

  • Ozone nanobubbles can break down harmful chemicals in water, such as PFAS, which are resistant to degradation and harmful. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) were widely used chemicals found in many products, but they persist in the environment and pose health risks. Ozone nanobubbles provide a means to degrade PFAS, offering a promising solution to this environmental challenge. As we improve methods to detect and measure PFAS in air, water, soil, and wildlife, ozone nanobubbles present a viable treatment option for contaminated water sources.
  • Oxygen nanobubbles accelerate wound healing by delivering long-lasting oxygen and beneficial reactive oxygen species to tissues. The presence of oxygen is crucial for cell repair and regeneration. By cleaning wounds with water containing oxygen nanobubbles, they enhance oxygen delivery to the affected area, promoting faster and more effective healing. This technology has significant implications for medical treatments and patient recovery times.
  • A more recent application is to convert CO2 nanobubbles from the atmosphere into solid rock minerals. This process, known as carbon mineralization, involves CO2 nanobubbles reacting with earthly cations such as calcium and magnesium ions in water to form stable, solid carbonates. This not only helps in reducing greenhouse gases but also provides a method to sequester carbon in a permanent form. This innovative approach contributes to global efforts to mitigate climate change by addressing carbon emissions.