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10 ѹѺ෤շç㹻 2008
Dated: 10 Oct 2008
Ten Top Technologies for 2008

The environmental industry is facing a number of new demands this year. Fortunately, thanks to brand new

It is said that becoming a parent is the biggest change a person goes through in his or her lifetime,introducing a seemingly insurmountable list of new responsibilities. What isnt said is that the list grows with the kids;

as soon as one impossible task is under control, 10 more will spring up. Becoming a pollution control professional is little different. Each new year portends a bevy of new environmental challenges for the pollution control industry. Here are 10 technologies developed in the last year that could have a major effect on pollution control and abatement in the near future.

10. Hey, Thats Your Mercury

A generation ago, mercury was considered so harmless that children were at times allowed to play with it in science class. Only recently have scientists agreed that it is the methylated form that accumulates in fish that is toxic. Since that revelation, states and federal officials have moved to control mercury.

But how can the regulators know where the mercury is coming from?

Helping that fight is a new technology that can use mass spectrometry to measure mass-dependent fractionation of mercury. This year, scientists at Rutgers University and the University of Michigan have found a way to use isotope ratios to fingerprint mercury found in fish. The hope is that their process will become so ubiquitous that tracking a mercury source will be as common as using Carbon13 testing.

9. Veggie Plastic

Green technology has been a buzz-word in American industry, largely centered on the hope that fossil fuels could be replaced by fermented sugars from U.S. cash crops. The plastics industry has developed biodegradable materials made from oils in vegetables, using them in everything from plastic utensils to furniture cushions. The crops replace petroleum used as a feedstock for plastic products, and according to industry giants Cargill and Dow Chemical Co., the bio-based products are cheaper.

8. Making Sensors Smaller

Georgia Tech researchers have developed a miniature sensor that uses polymer membranes deposited on a tiny silicon disk to measure pollutants present in aqueous or gaseous environments. An array of these sensors with different surface coatings could be used in the field to rapidly detect different chemicals.

The heart of the disk-shaped sensor is a microbalance that measures the mass of pollutant molecules. When pollutant chemicals get adsorbed to the surface of the sensor, a frequency change of the vibrating microbalance provides a measure of the associated mass change, said Oliver Brand, associate professor in Georgia Techs School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The researchers chose a silicon disk platform for the sensor because the disk shears back and forth around its center with a characteristic resonance frequency between 300 and 1,000 kHz, depending on its geometry. Since each sensor has a diameter of approximately 200 to 300 microns, an array of a dozen sensors is only a few millimeters in size.

By modifying the silicon transducer surface with different polymer membranes, each sensor becomes selective for groups of chemicals, said Boris Mizaikoff, an associate professor in Georgia Techs School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of its Applied Sensors Laboratory. An array of these sensors, each sensor with a different chemically modified transducer surface, can sense different pollutants in a variety of environments.

7. Solar Sanitation

Sometimes, the most effective technologies are not the ones that require huge scientific breakthroughs, but find a way to provide old technology for less expense. Several U.S. universities have come up with a cheap, simple sanitation system that they are now using to provide a number of poor communities around the globe with minimal water treatment. Emory Universitys Center for Global Safe Water, in partnership with researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute, have developed a dry sanitation system that uses solar energy to generate enough heat to kill most harmful microorganisms in human feces.

Over the summer of 2006, two Georgia Tech students, Brad Davis, a building construction major, and Calvin Johnson, now a receiver for the NFLs Detroit Lions, studied existing solar latrines and designed two prototypes that produced the required amount of heat 140˚F to kill the microorganisms.

The sanitation system is essentially a brick chamber, about 2 feet high. When half of the chamber fills up, the other side is used until it is full. During storage, the feces turn into compost and are eventually shoveled onto fields as fertilizer.

6. The Emission-Free Recycling Machine

Gershow Recycling, Long Island, N.Y., this year became the first company to purchase and implement the Hawk 10, a self-sufficient, environmentally friendly auto scrap recycler from Global Resource Corp. of West Berlin, N.J. According to the manufacturer, the recycling machine for automobile shredder residue generates no emissions or pollutants, not even CO2.

The recycling system uses high microwave frequencies to convert textiles, foams, plastics, rubber, and light metal content extracted from cars and normally tossed as waste into oil and gas. For each ton of steel that is recovered, between 500 and 700 pounds of automobile shredder residue (ASR) is produced. ASR contains plastics, rubber, wood, paper, fabrics, glass, sand, dirt, ferrous and non-ferrous metal pieces. The current ASR disposal technology is land filling.

The system breaks down this so-called autofluff by using microwaves to gasify the materials a process also known as cracking the hydrocarbon chain and converts them into 80-percent light combustible gases, and 20-percent oil. The gas is then cycled in a closed-loop system to fuel the next round of material breakdown.

5. Non-Metal Media for Lead, Mercury

Kanatzidis and his research team.

Aerogel is a foam-like material that could be used to soak up heavy metals in runoff water from polluted industrial sites. Developed by Mercouri Kanatzidis of Northwestern University in Illinois, aerogel binds preferentially to heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium, allowing other metals like zinc and magnesium to pass through.

Kanatzidis and his team discovered the material while trying to create a porous semiconductor out of chemical compounds known as chalcogenides.

The researchers soaked 10 milligrams of the media in water contaminated with mercury at 645 parts per million; the aerogel removed almost all of the mercury, reducing levels to 0.04 ppm.

4. Hydrogen At the Ready

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but the full realization of hydrogen as an alternative energy source has been frustrated by gaps in technology. Specifically, scientists have been frustrated in attempts to find efficient and cost-effective means of storing and transporting the molecularly small gas.

However, Jerry Woodall, a professor at Purdue University, believes he has found a way to do just that through the utilization of aluminum alloy pellets. Woodalls method mixes aluminum alloy pellets with water and gallium. The mixture of aluminum alloy, water and gallium spontaneously produces hydrogen. Hydrogen is produced in this reaction by splitting the oxygen and hydrogen atoms contained in water.

Gallium inhibits the creation of a skin, which otherwise would prevents oxygen from fully reacting with aluminum. After the reaction, the gallium remains unchanged and unspent.

The Purdue Research Foundation holds title to the primary patent, which has been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and is pending.

3. Trapping CO2 with Nanotechnology

A new British technology, based on nano-porous fibers, can trap CO2 and other pollutants so they can be removed and, where possible, recycled back into the production process.

Tiny pores, less than 1,000th of the width of a human hair, contain materials that trap volatile hydrocarbons and other gases so they can be removed from the air flow. Early trials of the technology have shown that it uses less than 5 percent of the energy needed by cleaning processes currently used in industry.

University of Bath professor Semali Perera developed the technology with research officer Chin Chih Tai in the universitys Department of Chemical Engineering. Pereras team recently received £185,000 (about $377,128 USD) in grant money through the Brian Mercer Award for Innovation from the United Kingdoms Royal Society.

According to the university, the grant will be used to help develop the technology to a stage where it has proven its commercial viability.

2. Thermally Rearranged Plastic

A plastic tweaked to mimic cellular membranes, detailed in the Oct. 12 issue of the journal Science, can separate CO2 from natural gas, works well at high temperatures, and could help isolate natural gas from decomposing garbage or filter impurities from water.

The thermally rearranged plastic allows CO2 or other small molecules to pass through its hourglass-shaped pores but blocks the passage of methane. The shape of the cavities are similar to ion channels on cell surfaces that allow molecules of only a certain size and charge to pass to the interior.

The membranes, developed at the University of Texas in Austin, could be used to prevent gas-pipe corrosion, helping to keep the natural gas transported in pipelines to 2 percent CO2, and strip out extra carbon that accumulates in the gas in transit.

The plastic can handle temperatures above 600˚F and actually performs better at high temperatures. The high heat tolerance makes it ideal for use in power plants where high temperatures are required to separate greenhouse gases from natural gases.

1. Identifying Bacteria in Air


Gary Andersen, Todd DeSantis and their colleagues at Berkeley Lab have invented a fast DNA microarray, dubbed the PhyloChip, that can identify multiple bacterial and archaeal organisms from complex microbial samples.

The microarray probes sample for the 16S rRNA gene, which is involved in making proteins and is found in all bacteria and archaea. Capable of analyzing samples from any source air, water, soil, blood or tissue the system identifies known and unknown organisms; the latter are classified based on their similarities to known microbes. PE

Seth Fisher
Seth is the managing editor of Pollution Engineering. Since joining in 2003, he has served as PEs products editor, associate editor, news editor, e-newsletter editor and website director.

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