Revolutionary clean-up technology needs funding

A team of scientists has discovered that iron nanoparticles can clean up contaminated groundwater more efficiently and at a far lower cost than conventional methods. However, in order to continue their research the scientists are searching for extra funding, as they cannot produce sufficient nanoparticles for their tests as fast as they need to.

Researchers from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania have tested the effectiveness of the nanoparticles on 50 different potential organic pollutants, including pesticides. The have found that, when applied to water or soil contaminated with carcinogenic solvents such as those used in dry cleaning and industrial processes, nanoparticles remove chlorine and convert the solvents into harmless hydrocarbons and chlorides commonly found in table salt.

“Nano particles have been used in chemical processing and electrical engineering for years, but as far as I know, we are the first to use them for groundwater cleanup,” said Wei-xian Zhang, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lehigh University.

The approach has been found to be dramatically more effective than traditional cleanup methods that require water to be pumped out, treated, then disposed of. A US$20 million cleanup project might cost as little as a quarter of the price using nanoparticles, says Zhang, and US-wide savings could be staggering when you consider that the US government alone projects spending US$750 billion in the next 30 years to clean up contaminated groundwater.

“This is the first technology that we have found that has the potential to clean up the thousands of sites in many industries in the US, where currently nothing is happening,” said Chang Tai, environmental and safety engineer for Trane Co, a company that has been demonstrating the effectiveness of the technology.

There is also no fear of potential side effects from introducing the nanoparticles into water or the soil, Zhang told edie. “Iron in small amounts is actually a nutrient,” he said. “Many Americans use it as a dietary supplement; so the material used is non-toxic.” The nanoparticles are used in very small quantities, at a level of parts per million, explained Zhang.

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