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Brighton University: Green technologies clean up


Scientists at the University of Brighton have discovered a new way of treating chromium VI contaminated soil which could save industry and developers millions of pounds.

It involves placing contaminated soil in a specially kitted out industrial skip, placing two arrays of iron electrodes at opposite ends of the skip and applying a low intensity electric current.

The toxic chromium VI contaminant in the soil moves in response to the electric field and is transformed to low toxicity chromium (III), and together with iron derived from the sacrificial electrodes, the chromium is effectively locked within an “iron curtain” which can be subsequently removed.

The low-energy method is called Ferric Iron Remediation and Stabilisation (FIRS) and has been developed by Dr Laurence Hopkinson and Professor Andy Cundy of the University of Brighton’s School of Environment and Technology. They have developed the system for commercial use on chromium VI and other metallic contaminants with Churngold Remediation Ltd, although the system can be applied to a much wider range of problem pollutants. The technology is protected via a patent jointly owned by the universities of Brighton and Sussex. Licensees are currently being sought in the UK and abroad to ensure that FIRS contributes to major land clean-up projects involving a variety of heavy metal, chlorinated solvent, and radioactively contaminated land.

Current methods of decontaminating soil tend to be expensive and labour-intensive. Many, for instance, require the removal of soil to landfill sites, which has been subject to heavy taxing and restriction under UK and EU regulations.

Pilot studies on more than 500 cubed metres of soil show that FIRS was able to reduce the level of hexavalent chromium, one of the most common and toxic heavy metal contaminants found in heavy clay soil in industrial and mining areas, by up to 85 per cent over 42 days. Electrokinesis was also used to reduce contamination in soil water through an electrokinetic holding tank in the skip, in the process yielding purified water which comfortably surpasses the European Union’s 0.05mg/L maximum contaminant level of Cr(VI) in drinking water.

Because FIRS uses about a tenth of the energy required by standard electrokinetic systems, it is highly cost effective. One of the most significant findings of the pilot studies involved the ability to decontaminate water on site which means the system can be completely self-contained and generate nominal amounts of waste. Accordingly, FIRS appears to represent a comparatively simple, low energy, low cost, and low maintenance approach to abate environmental risk.”

Initial research into FIRS was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council with further funding for scale up of the technology provided via the government’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership scheme and Churngold Remediation Ltd.
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