Two Brigham Young University chemistry professors have developed a device that selectively extracts chemical elements from culinary water, wastewater and other liquids.
The new technology simplifies what has been a fairly unreliable method of drawing certain chemical compounds from very dilute solutions, say BYU researchers Reed M. Izatt and Jerald S. Bradshaw, who developed the system."This new process is valuable because present methods become less and less effective as concentrations of the trace metal in a solution go down. Present methods are not selective, but ours is," Izatt said.
Izatt compared the device's selectivity to being able to find and retrieve a lone foreign coin among several trillion American dollars. Existing technology, to continue the example, removes dollars along with the one foreign and other foreign coins that may be mixed up in the group of currency.
Once water is passed through a glass column, a solution is added that extracts collected metals.
"If you ran a hundred gallons of water through this column and then put the second solution through it, you would have a quart of super-concentrated solution with the desired metal in it," explains Bradshaw. Analysis of the recovered trace metal is made easier once it's captured in a more concentrated form, he said.
The two scientists said the device could be of interest to companies concerned with waste water and environmental contamination, public water supply systems and industrial firms that reclaim silver and gold from discarded water.
A version of the device large enough to be used in culinary water treatment plants is also being developed.
Communities nationwide are required by federal law to meet clean drinking water standards. Under the program, metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, copper, silver and other dangerous elements must not exceed a maximum concentration.
Identifying the amount of such chemicals in a city's water supply can be an arduous task - especially if several water sources are involved, Bradshaw said. Some elements, such as mercury and lead, are known to be hazardous to humans if consumed above certain levels, and others are suspected health hazards.
By using the BYU device to test culinary water supplies, Bradshaw said, communities could more accurately analyze the level of specific chemicals - allowing officials to isolate and clean up or discontinue using any water supplies containing unhealthy levels of chemical com-pounds.
Last year, the two scientists received a $200,000 Center of Excellence grant from the Utah Office of Economic Development to pursue the study of chemical separation systems.
Bradshaw and Izatt said their new technology is an important outgrowth of the Center of Excellence program and is expected to provide jobs and other benefits to the state's economy.