Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Swelling Glass

This is a surprise and there are likely many other variations that may be able to use the same strategy.  At the moment there is the art to be learned in its usage but even then we can all see the value of a product that sucks up liquid organics yet repels water.


I do not want chatter about oil spills.  There the problem is one of volume.  There is always way too much for anything to help except capture and recovery.  Yet small spills that will simply saturate are difficult and expensive to treat.  This promises to allow blending of the product directly into contaminated material to collect the pollutant, followed eventually with water separation.


That is the main advantage of what is described.  The pollutant is captured in a form that also reduces density allowing floatation.  Many other products capture pollutants without reducing density or providing any separation strategy. 


“Swelling Glass” Cleans Polluted Water Like a Sponge


Written by Tina Casey
Published on January 11th, 2010

This is the discovery that could put the College of Wooster on the map: glass that swells like a sponge.  Put together like a nano-matrix, the new glass can unfold to hold up to eight times its weight.  The glass binds with gasoline and other pollutants containing volatile organic compoundsbut it does not bind with water, so it acts like a “smart” sponge, capable of picking and choosing from contaminated groundwater.

The new material was developed by Dr. Paul Edmiston of the College of Wooster, who formed a new company, Absorbent Materials, to market the new glass under the trademark Obsorb.  A number of pilot sites are being tested in the United States, and industrialized countries are not the only ones that stand to gain.  Obsorb’s unique properties make it ideal for low tech, low-budget cleanups in developing areas as well.
Obsorb is a reactive glass.  Unlike conventional glass, it can bond with the chemicals it encounters.  However, it is also hydrophobic, meaning that it does not bond with water.  At a recent pilot demonstration in Ohio, Obsorb was used in the form of a white powder to suck up a plume ofTCE (a volatile organic compound).  TCE is particularly difficult and expensive to clean up using conventional means, which is the reason why some contaminated sites are simply shut down, allowing the vapors to dissipate naturally.  The process takes decades, so Obsorb could provide a low-cost means of recovering sites more quickly.  The venture development group JumpStart Inc.saw the potential and has just committed a $250,000 investment to Absorbent Materials.

Once full, Obsorb floats to the surface, where it can be skimmed off with something as simple as a coffee filter.  After that the pollutants can be retrieved and the glass can be reused hundreds of time.  Nanoparticles of iron can also be added to convert TCE or PCE (another volatile organic compound) into harmless substances.  As a low cost form of cleanup, swelling glass could provide site remediators with yet another in the growing list of non-conventional cleanup tools along with lactate, vitamin B-12, and even cattails.

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