Citrus peels and sulphur are key to cleaning mercury from oceans, with the creation of a new polymer combining the two.
Scientists with the Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia have been busy coming up with an innovative way to clean the polluting mercury from ocean water. Ending up in the ocean, mercury is also affecting marine life and not only. Since the onset of the industrial revolution, the bioaccumulation process has been constantly advancing.
This means that mercury concentrations are high and higher as the food chain evolves. From rivers to seas and oceans, to fish, prey and predators and ultimately us, mercury pollution affects a large swath of the planet.
In order to curb mercury pollution, the scientific team led by Justin Chalker turned to waste. If used correctly, waste can offer a miraculous range of applications for different industries and scientific areas. For instance, the Flinders University team turned to industrial waste, rich in sulphur and a byproduct or waste of the citrus industry, limonene. The latter is an oily compound found in orange peel or citrus fruit peels.
Justin Chalker explained that:
“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. Until now, there has been no such method, but the new sulphur-limonene polysulfide addresses this urgent need”.
It is as simple yet astonishing as it sounds. Citrus peels and sulphur are key to cleaning mercury from oceans, entwined in the new polymer. The sulphur-limonene polysulfide is a red, rubber-like product that can be used both for the detection of mercury and for absorbing efficiently. If the sulphur-limonene polysulfide will be produced at large scale, it would certainly find a number of applications.
The research team suggests the polymer could be used to coat water pipes, as well as wastewater pipes and drainage systems. Moreover, it is fairly cheap to produce, being a highly cost effective material. As both sulphur and limonene are obtained from waste, there is plenty of resource to work with.
The petroleum industry leaves behind 77 million tons of sulphur per year. The citrus fruits industry matches the number with another 77 thousand tons of limonene yearly. Repurposing this waste brings added benefits, on top of reducing the production cost of the sulphur-limonene polysulfide. Double the environmental benefits of repurposing harmful industrial waste with the purpose of the polymer: cleaning mercury pollution out of ocean waters.
The research findings are reported in the Angewandte Chemie International Edition journal.
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