Researchers at Flinders University have created a polymer from industrial waste and orange peels that “literally sucks mercury out of water and soil”.
The polymer could potentially be used to coat water pipes to remove mercury passively, or used in large scale clean-ups in the ocean.
“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,” said Dr Justin Chalker, who teaches synthetic chemistry at Flinders and developed the polymer
“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.”
The red polymer is made from two waste products – limonene, a major component of orange peels, and sulphur, a byproduct of the petroleum industry. 70 million tons of sulphur are produced each year as oil companies desulphurise crude oil.
“There are literally mountains” of sulphur around the world according to Dr Chalker. The citrus industry produces more than 70,000 tons of limonene a year, most of which is currently wasted. The two ingredients just need to be mixed together.
The researchers were experimenting with a more sustainable way to produce polymers, which are heavily used in everyday life, for example in styrofoam and paints.