For those working to clean up some of the worst water pollutants on Earth, gold and palladium might be getting considerably more precious.
Rice University researchers have been working with the metals for a decade to figure out a way to efficiently destroy complex chemical pollutants. They have announced that the fruit of their labor is a technology called PGClear that they say can quickly decontaminate groundwater. Scientists from Rice, Stanford University and DuPont collaborated on the work, which will first be installed in June at a DuPont plant in Kentucky.
At its heart, the system uses pellets formed from a combination of the two metals. The pellets act as a catalyst to break down persistent cancer-causing industrial solvents like vinyl chloride, trichloroethene and chloroform into nontoxic methane and salt byproducts.
“Chlorinated compounds were widely used as solvents for many decades, and they are common groundwater contaminants the world over,” Rice chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Michael Wong said in a statement. “These compounds are also extremely difficult to treat inexpensively with conventional technology.”
Top Image: When contaminated water flows through a column containing PGClear pellets containing palladium and gold, the material spurs a chemical reaction that breaks down industrial solvents into nontoxic methane and salt. Gold and palladium, a member of the platinum group of metals, make up only about 1 percent of the pellet, which is about the size of a rice grain. Photo courtesy Jeff Fitlow/Rice University.