Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia have accidentally discovered a way to remove mercury from water using a material made from industrial waste and orange peel. Mercury is a dangerous pollutant that can damage food and water supplies, affect the human nervous systems and is especially poisonous for children. Synthetic chemist Dr Justin Chalker said his team initially set out to make a useful type of plastic or polymer made from something widely available.
"We ended up settling on sulphur because it's produced in 70 million tonnes per year by the petroleum industry as a by-product, so there are not very many uses for it, and limonene is produced in 70,000 tonnes per year and so it's relatively cheap," he said. "It literally grows on trees."
The plastic-like substance they created is made entirely from sulphur and limonene, industrial waste products that are widely available but unused around the world. "We take sulphur, which is a by-product of the petroleum industry, and we take limonene, which is the main component of orange oil, so is produced in large quantities by the citrus industry, and we're able to react them together to form a type of soft red rubber, and what this material does is that it can grab mercury out of the water," Dr Chalker said.