Laser-drilled microplastic filter tested at wastewater facility

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The filter features million of laser-drilled holes that remove microplastics from municipal wastewater. (Image Fraunhofer ILT)

A microplastic filter containing sheets with millions of 10μm-diameter laser-drilled holes is being tested at a wastewater treatment plant for the first time.

The sheets were drilled with a kilowatt-level ultrafast laser using multibeam technology – a  special optical system that generates a matrix of identical beams.

The work has been done as part of the ‘SimConDrill’ project, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). ‘At its core, our challenge was to drill as many holes as possible, as small as possible, in a steel foil in the shortest time possible,’ explained Andrea Lanfermann, project manager at Fraunhofer ILT.

This was achieved using a Trumpf ‘TruMicro 5280 Femto Edition’ ultrafast laser combined with Fraunhofer ILT’s multibeam technology, which together can drill holes simultaneously using 144 beams.

Project partner LaserJob GmbH used the setup to drill 59 million 10μm-diameter holes into a filter sheet, which was then installed in Klass Filter GmbH's cyclone filter to undergo extensive testing. This involved the fine powder from 3D printers being filtered from contaminated water. 

The filter is now being tested under real conditions in a wastewater treatment plant.

In the microplastic filter, the films with the microholes are fixed on a coarser grid so that they do not tear under the water pressure. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT)

At the LaserWorld of Photonics trade fair in Munich, a similar laser-drilled microplastic filter will be on display at the Fraunhofer booth.

Industrialising multi-beam technology

In parallel to the drilling work the research and industrial partners of the EU project ‘Multiflex’ are working on how to best integrate multibeam technology into a scanner-based industrial laser machine. The special feature of this project is that all partial beams can be individually controlled and, thus, used to produce any kind of surface structure. The project partners aim to increase the speed of the process by a factor of twenty to fifty, thus making the entire process significantly more cost-effective.

Related article: Wielding the increasing average power of ultrafast lasers

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