Another way to remove metals is through simple chemistry. The technique involves using hydroxides and sulfides to precipitate the metal ions from the water, so they form solids. The solids, however, constitute a toxic sludge, and there is no good way to deal with it. Landfills generally won't take it, and letting it sit in settling ponds is toxic and environmentally unsound. "Nobody wants it, because it's a huge liability," Calo said.
The dilemma, then, is how to remove the metals efficiently without creating an unhealthy byproduct. Calo and his co-authors, postdoctoral researcher Pengpeng Grimshaw and George Hradil, who earned his doctorate at Brown and is now an adjunct professor, combined the two techniques to form a closed-loop system. "We said, 'Let's use the attractive features of both methods by combining them in a cyclic process,'" Calo said.
It took a few years to build and develop the system. In the paper, the authors describe how it works. The CEP system involves two main units, one to concentrate the cations and another to turn them into stable, solid-state metals and remove them. In the first stage, the metal-laden water is fed into a tank in which an acid (sulfuric acid) or base (sodium hydroxide) is added to change the water's pH, effectively separating the water molecules from the metal precipitate, which settles at the bottom. The "clear" water is siphoned off, and more contaminated water is brought in. The pH swing is applied again, first redissolving the precipitate and then reprecipitating all the metal, increasing the metal concentration each time. This process is repeated until the concentration of the metal cations in the solution has reached a point at which electrowinning can be efficiently employed.
When that point is reached, the solution is sent to a second device, called a spouted partic
|Contact: Richard Lewis|