A new nanotechnology to clean up contaminated water will soon be tested in Louisville. It will use two precious metals—gold and palladium—to remove chloroform from contaminated groundwater at the DuPont plant in Rubbertown.
Nanotechnology is a term that refers to materials made in a lab that manipulate chemicals at an atomic level. They’re smaller than a red blood cell, hence “nano.”
The new technology is called PGClear, and has been in development at Rice University for the past decade with federal funding. Michael Wong is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice, and the lead researcher on the project. He says PGClear uses catalysis to clean the water.
“There’s many ways to clean up water and catalysis is a way we’re approaching that particular problem,” he said.
The system will pump the contaminated groundwater into a chamber that contains pellets made of gold and palladium. It’s worked in a lab setting, and the next step is a small-scale test at DuPont’s Louisville plant.
In this case, PGClear will try to remove chloroform from the groundwater. The groundwater at the DuPont site in Louisville has been contaminated for years, and the company has been using other technology to contain and remediate the site.
DuPont spokesman Bob Nelson says the company is excited about the opportunity to test the nanotechnology. “We’re hopeful that the pilot program will deliver really favorable results to add on to the existing remediation that we’re doing there at the Kentucky site,” he said.
Wong says the same technology has worked on chemicals like vinyl chloride and trichloroethene (TCE), which could mean there are significant uses for the system at Superfund sites. Soil can be contaminated along with the groundwater, but as the water is cleaned, Wong says a lot of the chemicals migrate from the soil to the water and can be removed.
If the pilot project at DuPont goes well, Wong will try it on a larger scale. Eventually, it could be adapted to address other dangerous volatile organic compounds.
Of course, it’s easier to just not contaminate the groundwater in the first place.
“I’ve learned throughout the years that there’s a lot of stuff out there that shouldn’t be in the water system or the environment,” Wong said. “But it’s out there now, and we can’t ignore it because it’s going to do things in the environment that if left untouched could become worse problems for the communities and for the ecosystem.”
The project will begin in Louisville in June. Wong’s technology is the first in the world to use both gold and palladium to decontaminate water; several others have been built that use just palladium.
Here’s a video from Rice about the nanotechnology: