Dispersion properties of nanoplastic spheres in granular media at low Reynolds numbers

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Nanoplastic particles (<1 μm) are among the contaminants of emerging concern, and compared to microplastic (<5 mm), our understanding of the transport and fate of nanoplastic in water, sediments and soil is very limited. This paper focuses on developing fundamental insight into the dispersion behaviour (sum of hydrodynamic dispersion and diffusion) of nanoplastic spheres, which are likely the most mobile shape of nanoplastic. We measured the dispersion coefficient and dispersivity of nanoplastic spheres (100 nm, 300 nm and 1000 nm diameter) in granular media with a range of pore sizes. We investigated the mechanisms that control the behaviour at low Reynolds number (smaller than 2), relevant to the dispersion of nanoplastic across the riparian area at water velocities of the common river and shallow groundwater. The measured dispersion coefficients were compared with the predictions by two commonly used models. The results show that there are significant differences between measurements and predictions for the case of colloidal size nanoplastics (MAPE>100%). The retarded dispersion caused by the size-exclusion effect was observed to be important in the case of 1.7 mm and 0.4 mm granular media for 300 nm and 1000 nm nanoplastics, reducing the dispersivity and sensitivity to Reynolds number. The methodology in this paper can be adopted in studies on other sizes and shapes of nanoplastic, assisting with predicting the transport and fate of nanoplastic granular media.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104244
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Early online date18 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


  • Dispersion
  • Hydrodynamic
  • Microplastic
  • Nanoplastic
  • Plastic pollution


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