Ben Squires

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Wed, 21 Oct, 2015

Aussie scientists discover how to remove mercury from water

Aussie scientists discover how to remove mercury from water

Australian scientists at Flinders University might have found a solution to the growing problem of mercury contamination in the world’s major waterways. The answer? Orange peels.

Synthetic chemist, Dr Justin Chalker, and his team of scientists have discovered a material that can be used to remove mercury from water. The material is made out of orange peels, as well as industrial waste that is widely available but currently unused in many parts of the world.

Dr Chalker elaborates on the discovery: "We take sulphur, which is a by-product of the petroleum industry, and we take limonene, which is the main component of orange oil, so is produced in large quantities by the citrus industry, and we're able to react them together to form a type of soft red rubber, and what this material does is that it can grab mercury out of the water. So we are taking waste material and making a polymer from it that can remove mercury from water."

Water Mercury Orange Peels

A block made out of the orange peel-waste polymer. Image Credit: Flinders University

Because the materials are so widely available (and inexpensive) there is potential for them to be deployed at major sites and reclaim contaminated rivers and lakes. 

Mercury contamination is a huge problem for major waterways. Many deep-water fish now display levels of mercury commonly associated with a range of health problems, which could have a huge impact, particularly in parts of the third world which rely heavily on fish for nutrition.

Dr Chalker and his team are currently exploring plans to develop this material on a larger scale, and the initial results look promising, “We've also done toxicity studies to make sure that the polymer itself is not harmful to the environment so that gives us hope that we'll be able to commercialise and actually use this in the environment.”

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