A process that combines industrial waste recycling and environmental remediation has been fine-tuned at Flinders University, Australia. A new type of polymer derived from used cooking oil and sulfur, a byproduct of petroleum production, removes mercury from water, soil and air.
The rubbery polymer changes color as it absorbs mercury in its metallic, vapor or organic forms, signaling that the cleanup process is complete.
The material is now undergoing field trials at mining sites and areas where mercury-based fungicides are used, and is expected to find its most valuable application at artisanal gold mining operations. The use of mercury to recover gold at these sites exposes millions of people to the toxic element as vapor or in mine tailings.
“Because our mercury-capturing material is made from waste, our goal is to provide a cost-effective and technically simple material for cleaning up mercury pollution at these gold mines,” said Dr. Justin Chalker, lead researcher and senior lecturer in Synthetic Chemistry at Flinders University.
The mercury-binding polymer is licensed for sale to Kerafast, a U.S.-based reagent company whose primary aim is to make unique laboratory-made research tools easily accessible to the global scientific community.
Collaborators from the University of Cambridge (UK), the Institute for Molecular Medicine (Portugal), U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Australia) and the University of Melbourne (Australia) also contributed to this research.