New Polymer Made From Orange Peel Sucks Mercury Out Of Water

Posted: Oct 21 2015, 4:23am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 21 2015, 10:00pm CDT, in Latest Science News


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New Polymer Made from Orange Peel Sucks Mercury out of Water
Flinders student Max Worthington and Dr Justin Chalker with the new polymer, which sucks mercury out of water.
  • Novel Stuff created from Orange Peel could Spell End of Underwater Mercury Residues

A form of novel stuff has been created from orange peel and it could spell the end of underwater mercury residues.

The Machine Age brought in mercury as a polluting agent and today the oceanic residues of mercury are 3.4 times as concentrated as they were in pre-industrial times. Mercury finds a way into the food supply and adversely affects health.

Especially tuna fish have a tendency to store vast quantities of mercury in their tissues. When these fish are consumed by humans, the mercury gets transferred to human beings thereby causing all sorts of complications.

Even the Grand Canyon is not immune to this toxic influence. It is brimming with mercury deposits. When coal is set on fire and minerals are mined from beneath the earth, the result is that exposure to mercury levels goes sky high.

This is a health hazard for both human beings and endangered species. While several ideas have been bounced around, until now no solution has been forthcoming. The costs-to-benefits ratio just does not allow the procedure whatever it may happen to be. On a worldwide level, it is not feasible at all.

Now a solution may have been found. Scientists at Flinders University in Australia have made a new material. Flinders University’s Dr Justin Chalker developed this dark red material. It is composed of waste sludge from citrus fruits and petroleum and it is capable of absorbing tons of mercury from the land and the ocean.

The substance is a polymer with a deep burgundy hue. It was created via employment of limonene, a chemical compound found in orange peel and sulfur. Upon absorbing mercury, this substance turns yellow.

Thus it not only cleans up mercury residues but gives clues as to when it is fully absorbed. Since the raw materials from which this mercury absorbent substance is made are very cheap, it can be mass produced after a few modifications.

Dr Chalker says, "the new polymer is cheap to produce due to the global abundance of waste sulphur and limonene. That makes it affordable for use in large-scale environmental clean-ups, to coat water pipes carrying domestic and waste water, and even in removing mercury from large bodies of water."

The applications of this new polymer are virtually limitless. The substance can be coated along the pipes that supply water to residential areas. It can also be employed in large scale clean-up operations. Also such vast areas as oceans can be depleted of their mercury pollution via this wonderful substance.

It is indeed a miracle of modern chemical engineering. 70 million tons of sulfur comes from the petroleum plants and 70,000 tons of limonene arrives from the citrus fruit industries. By synthesizing the new polymer from these waste materials the world could be made a pristine place once again.

“Mercury contamination plagues many areas of the world, affecting both food and water supplies and creating a serious need for an efficient and cost effective method to trap this mercury,” says Dr Chalker.

“Until now, there has been no such method, but the new sulphur-limonene polysulfide addresses this urgent need.

“More than 70 million tonnes of sulphur is produced each year by the petroleum industry, so there are literally mountains of it lying, unused, around the globe, while more than 70 thousand tons of limonene is produced each year by the citrus industry (limonene is found mainly in orange peels).

“So not only is this new polymer good for solving the problem of mercury pollution, but it also has the added environmental bonus of putting this waste material to good use while converting them into a form that is much easier to store so that once the material is ‘full’ it can easily be removed and replaced.”

Dr Chalker’s new polymer can also remove toxic metals from water. It can also be used and in small amounts as a mercury detector in areas where pollution is suspected because of the chemical reaction which causes it to turn yellow.

Dr Chalker’s research will be published in an open-access article in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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