Getting rid of mercury pollution inexpensively using orange peels

Researchers from Australia believe they have found a cheap way to pull mercury from water: a polymer made from sulphur and oranges.

The discovery was made by Dr. Justin Chalker, whose findings will be published in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. Chalker is a researcher at Flinders University, and his discovery was announced in Blogs at Flinders.

Chalker’s goal was to develop a cheap substance that could be used in large-scale environmental clean-ups that could be coated on pipes or even used in large bodies of water.

The polymer contains sulphur, which is a byproduct of industrial waste, and limonene, which is produced by the citrus industry and mainly contains orange peels.

When the sulphur-limonene polysulfide contacts mercury, it turns bright yellow.

Chalker was happy to devise a polymer out of two products that are essentially landfill.

“More than 70 million tonnes of sulphur is produced each year by the petroleum industry, so there are literally mountains of it lying, unused, around the globe, while more than 70 thousand tons of limonene is produced each year by the citrus industry (limonene is found mainly in orange peels),” Chalker told Blogs at Flinders.

“So not only is this new polymer good for solving the problem of mercury pollution, but it also has the added environmental bonus of putting this waste material to good use while converting them into a form that is much easier to store so that once the material is ‘full’ it can easily be removed and replaced.”

Photo of Flinders student Max Worthington and Dr Justin Chalker. Credit Flinders University