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Making a mercury-removing polymer from industrial waste

By Mary Page Bailey |

Scientists at Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia; www.flinders.edu.au) have synthesized a new polymer that is extremely effective at binding to mercury for removal from water and soil. The new material — called sulfur-limonene polysulfide — is created from a reaction (diagram) between sulfur and limonene, two highly abundant byproducts from the petroleum refining and citrus industries, respectively. In addition to the very inexpensive raw materials, the simplicity of the synthesis reaction is another benefit — limonene is added to molten sulfur at around 170–180°C, and no catalysts or solvents are required. The team is currently producing sulfur-limonene polysulfide in 0.5-kg batches in its laboratory and working to scale up the process. “I anticipate that it is feasible to make several kilograms in a single batch,” says lead researcher Justin Chalker. “There are other adsorbents that are as effective at binding mercury. However, these competing technologies are far too expensive and complicated to synthesize on the scale required for typical remediation efforts,” explains Chalker. Commercial interest in the polymer has been rising, and the team is currently working with partners in the geoscience and mining…
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