Nanocomposite hydrogels are highly porous colloidal structures with a high adsorption capacity, making them promising materials for wastewater treatment. In particular, magnetic nanoparticle (MNP) incorporated hydrogels are an excellent adsorbent for aquatic pollutants. An added advantage is that, with the application of an external magnetic field, magnetic hydrogels can be collected back from the wastewater system. However, magnetic hydrogels are quite brittle and structurally unstable under compact conditions such as in fixed-bed adsorption columns. To address this issue, this study demonstrates a unique hydrogel composite bead structure, providing a good adsorption capacity and superior compressive stress tolerance due to the presence of hollow cores within the beads. The gel beads contain alginate polymer as the matrix and MNP-decorated cellulose nanofibres (CNF) as the reinforcing agent. The MNPs within the gel provide active adsorption functionality, while CNF provide a good stress transfer phenomenon when the beads are under compressive stress. Their adsorption performance is evaluated in a red mud solution for pollutant adsorption. Composite gel beads have shown high performance in adsorbing metal (aluminium, potassium, selenium, sodium, and vanadium) and non-metal (sulphur) contaminations. This novel hybrid hydrogel could be a promising alternative to the conventionally used toxic adsorbent, providing environmentally friendly operational benefits.
Keywords: functional hybrid composite; hydrogel composite; magnetic nanoparticle; nanocellulose; wastewater treatment.