Solutions are always evolving for the polluting world out there, to compensate for the millions of tons of contaminants that poison the gas we breathe and the water we drink.
One such innovatory solution comes from the University of Illinois in the form of tiny carbon spheres embedded with iron nanoparticles, to make more efficient catalysts and filters.
Mark Rood, a civil and environmental engineering professor, along with his graduate student John Atkinson, have discovered how to impregnate carbon structures resulted from coal, for example, with iron, so that they have both the iron and the necessary surface area to be an excellent adsorbent for chemicals such as arsenic or carbon monoxide.
Their product is actually a porous carbon matrix that resembles a sponge. It is through these pores that the iron particles are spread within the entire matrix.
“That’s what really sets this apart from other techniques. Some people have carbonized and impregnated with iron, but they have no surface area. Other people have surface area but weren’t able to load it with iron,” Atkinson said. “Our technique provides both the carbon surface and the iron nanoparticles.”
They used an in-house developed technique called ultrasonic spray pyrolysis (USP), a 2005 innovation of Kenneth Suslick, from the same university. By making use of a household humidifier, Rood and Atkinson made a fine mist from a carbon-rich solution, and then sprayed it through a hot furnace. The water from each droplet evaporated and left tiny, highly porous carbon spheres.
So far, the researchers say that they can remove nitric oxide, mercury, and dioxin from gas streams such as those exiting the tailpipes. They’re also studying how these porous carbon-iron spheres could be used in hydrogen fuel cells. The main advantage that would recommend them for this is the fact that, unlike other materials, they don’t contain other metals that could interfere with the process of catalysis.