A scientist at the Florida Institute of Technology has come up with a new compound that disinfects and cleans polluted water without producing toxic byproducts. It’s based on ferrate, which is a revved-up form of iron. Through the school’s technology transfer office, chemistry professor Virender K. Sharma has teamed up to commercialize the product with Ferratec, LLC, a group formed by an investment incubation firm based in St. Louis called The Incubation Factory. Ferratec has a background working with ferrate, including a complementary technology from global science/tech research leader Battelle Memorial Institute.
The involvement of Battelle is significant because the non-profit manages the Department of Energy’s national laboratories, which fits in neatly with the federal government’s support for green chemistry that relies less on toxic substances including petrochemicals. In addition, the partnership nurtured by Florida Tech’s technology transfer office and The Incubation Factory demonstrates the growing power of academic institutions to link up with private investors and bring more sustainability-related research into the sphere of the public economy. It’s yet another manifestation of the weakening grip of fossil fuels as we move toward a more sustainable future.
Ferrate and Sustainability
The use of ferrate as a cleanser is not a new technology, but until now the catch has been coming up with a cost-effective method for producing and distributing it. Iron oxides, which are considered environmentally safe, are the only byproducts of using ferrate to clean polluted water, so it wins over other conventional treatments that can produce carcinogens such as trihalomethanes and bromates. Unlike conventional treatment, which requires different substances to oxidize and coagulate, Sharma’s liquid ferrate compound can lower costs by doing both of those jobs, while outperforming conventional disinfectants. A key element in bringing the product to market is Sharma’s design for a low cost production method that users can employ on site, practically eliminating issues related to supply, stability and shelf life.
The Future of Green Chemistry and Green Remediation
Another company called Ferrate Treatment Technologies is also bringing its expertise in ferrate to the market, and together they are joining a rapidly growing green remediation trend that uses renewable energy and non-toxic processes to clean up contaminated sites as well as wastewater. A few other examples include using lactate to stimulate pollutant-chewing bacteria in soil (vitamin B-12 also works), the use of kinetic energy “bombs” to disinfect water, and the use of glass with sponge-like properties to soak up pollutants.
Image: “Iron Man” by TESFox on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.