Given that in the last few days there have been high-profile stories about tuna being caught in the Pacific with trace (but, apparently, not unsafe) amounts of cesium from the Fukushima incident, I thought it might be timely to highlight some interesting work by an ACerS member regarding materials that could aid in the removal of some nasty contaminants in food and water supplies.
I am speaking of the work of Oklahoma State University chemistry professor Allen Apblett, whose research has been paying off in developing radiation-snaring materials. Apblett’s efforts were featured a few months ago at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, where the above video was taped.
In brief, Apblett has developed special ceramic pellets composed of alumina coated with nanoparticles of metal oxides designed to absorb, for example, cesium, by swapping it with a calcium ion. They could be used to decontaminate milk, baby formula and other drinks following a radioactive disaster such as Fukushima.
His work originated when he was working on a successful project to develop materials to remove uranium from water supplies. He explains that in the course of that work, he and his colleagues discovered another material that could selectively remove actinides and other toxic elements, such as lead and arsenic.
He suggest that the pellets be put in a porous capsule that then could be used by food manufacturers to process large batches of liquids such as apple juice or brown rice syrup contaminated with radioactive or non-radioactive toxic substances. (The capsule, of course, would eventually be removed before final processing, and the materials could be sent to a special recycling facility.)
Apblett says in the ACS presentation that he estimates such a capsule could remove all the radioactive strontium from a container of milk within 12 hours without changing the taste of the milk. He points out that tests have been conducted to make sure the pellets, themselves, don’t somehow contaminate the milk.
Apblett told the university’s newspaper, the O’Collegian, that he came across this discovery during routine testing in the laboratory to observe how calcium interfered with the process of uranium. What Apblett discovered was not what he was expecting.
“We found that not only did calcium not interfere, but it actually made the reaction go faster,” Apblett says in the story.
Apblett is working to commercialize some of the potential applications for the pellets. An OSU news release describes the creation of a business called Associated Material Processing, “the first company to enter the commercialization process through the early seed investor fund provided by Cowboy Technologies, LLC at Oklahoma State University.” The school credits Apblett with providing the technology for AMP, specifically “a system for arsenic byproduct removal from water and was targeted by Cowboy Technologies for use in the semi-conductor industry.”