From Flinders University:
In a win-win for a cleaner planet, scientists have devised a way to use waste cooking oil and sulphur to extract the neurotoxin mercury from the environment.
For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that the dynamic new canola oil polymer can trap the most dangerous and common types of mercury pollution – mercury metal, mercury vapour and highly toxic organo-mercury compounds which harm both aquatic and terrestrial systems.
“Our previous research studied a single type of inorganic mercury, so this is a significant advance,” says award-winning Flinders University scientist Dr Justin Chalker
“With the Minamata Convention on Mercury coming into force around the world this year, this discovery is an important advance in protecting the environment and human health,” says Dr Chalker, Senior Lecturer in Synthetic Chemistry at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.
“We can use this material to protect the environment by capturing toxic mercury pollution – a pernicious problem around the world, causing brain damage and loss of IQ points in unborn children.
“At the same time, every atom of the mercury-binding material can be derived from industrial byproducts, so this is also an exciting advance in recycling and re-purposing waste.”
In the latest advance in the pioneering new technology at Flinders University, Dr Chalker and fellow researchers from around the world have combined second-hand cooking oil and sulphur – a common, low-cost byproduct from petroleum production – to produce a new kind of polymer to use in remediation of soil, water and even the air.
After absorbing mercury pollution, the novel rubber-like polymer changes colour to indicate the job is done. More of the affordable polymer mixture can then be placed in the area to continue to process.
Dr Chalker says the material is being tested in field trials at mining sites and areas where mercury-based fungicides are used.