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Cooking up new ways to clean up our planet

Cooking up new ways to clean up our planet

Stock image—Coal Mine.

For the first time, Flinders University scientists—including ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher (DECRA) recipient, Dr Justin Chalker—have devised a way to use waste cooking oil and sulphur to extract the neurotoxin mercury from the environment.

Dr Chalker, and his team of 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.

Using pioneering new technology they have combined second-hand cooking oil and sulphur—a common, low-cost byproduct from petroleum production—to produce a new kind of polymer that can remove mercury from soil, water and air. After absorbing mercury pollution, the novel rubber-like polymer changes colour to indicate the job is done.

Dr Chalker says the largest source of mercury emissions globally is due to artisanal gold mining—where mercury metal is used to extract gold from ore. These mercury rich tailings and exposure to mercury vapour threaten the health of the nearly 15 million people involved in this process. Mercury-capturing material is made from waste, and Dr Chalker and his team’s goal is to provide a cost-effective and technically simple material for cleaning up mercury pollution at these gold mines.

Dr Chalker says the material is being tested in field trials at mining sites and areas where mercury-based fungicides are used. The latest development will enhance future sustainability, and environmental and health protection.

This research was funded by The Australian Government National Environmental Science Programme Emerging Priorities Funding and the Australian Research Council.


Media issued by Flinders University.

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