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PNNL develops mercury-absorbing pollution solution

ANAHEIM, Calif. --Scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a novel material that can remove mercury and other toxic substances from coal-burning power-plant waste water.

Mercury pollution is widely recognized as a growing risk to both the environment and public health. It is estimated that coal-burning power plants contribute about 48 tons of mercury to the United States environment each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in eight women have mercury concentrations in their body's that exceed safety limits.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reconsidering proposed rules on the release of mercury from coal-burning power plant effluents and may impose greater restrictions. Mercury found in liquid effluents comes from water-based processes the facilities use to scrub, capture and collect the toxic material.

PNNL's synthetic material features a nanoporous ceramic substrate with a specifically tailored pore size and a very high surface area. The surface area of one teaspoon of this substance is equivalent to that of a football field. "This substance has proven to be an effective and voracious tool for absorbing mercury," said Shas Mattigod, lead chemist and PNNL project manager. Pore sizes can be tailored for specific tasks.

The material relies on technology previously developed at PNNL self-assembled monolayers on mesoporous support, or SAMMS. SAMMS integrates a nanoporous silica-based substrate with an innovative method for attaching monolayers, or single layers of densely packed molecules, that can be designed to attract mercury or other toxic substances.

In recent tests at PNNL, a customized version of SAMMS with an affinity for mercury, referred to as thiol-SAMMS, was developed. According to Mattigod, test results revealed mercury-absorbing capabilities that surpassed the developers' expectations. After three successive tre
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Contact: Geoff Harvey
Geoffrey.Harvey@pnl.gov
509-372-6083
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
31-Mar-2004


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