Although they consist solely of a carbon framework, there are varieties of different fullerenes, which are mainly constituted by modifications of the particle surface. These modifications affect the properties of the fullerenes and thus also their environmental behaviour, so that no generally valid statements can be made e.g. regarding their mobility.

 

Water sampling © kozorog / fotolia.comIn water or aqueous media, unmodified fullerenes are only poorly dispersed, which can be improved by a change in the surface structure. Fullerene nanoparticles are rarely found individually, but mostly agglomerated, i.e. in complexes of several fullerenes. The salt concentration, the nature of the salt and the pH value of the water have a decisive influence on the strength of the complex formation [1-3]. Natural organic compounds also influence the agglomeration process and prevent the assembly of the fullerenes as well as their light-dependent transformation [4-9].

Irradiation with UV light (a portion of sunlight) can lead to chemical changes on the surface of the fullerenes, thus affecting the fate and transport of the fullerenes in water bodies. Fullerols, which are fullerenes occupied by hydroxyl groups, can even be dissolved by very long exposure to UV light. Due to their poor dispersibility in water, fullerenes preferentially deposit on the bottom of waters. From there, they can be re-distributed partly in the water by binding to naturally occurring particles [4,10-12].

plant germination sequence © weerapat1003 / fotolia.com

 

The composition of soils has a major influence on the distribution of the fullerenes, in particular the salt content, the pH value, the temperature and the moisture content of the soil. The fullerene nanomaterials are predominantly present as agglomerates, meaning they are less mobile, but able to bind and accumulate more contaminants present in the soil. Depending on their surface structure, the fullerenes can also form a strong bond with the soil components [2,9,13-16].

In general, fullerenes are resistant to decomposition processes. They remain therefore in the environment for a long time and can enter e.g. plants. Certain fungi can degrade fullerols due to their altered surface [17,18].

 

In summary, fullerenes disperse well or poorly in water, which has a decisive influence on their behaviour in water bodies. In addition, they often are not present individually, but rather are connected to agglomerates. These factors make it difficult to compare the different fullerenes and hence general statements on fullerene environmental behaviour are difficult to achieve.

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Literature arrow down

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