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Beer bottles could help clean up lead pollution - Updated

By Laura Goodall - 03 Oct 2011 12:55:0 GMT
Beer bottles could help clean up lead pollution - Updated

The beer bottles we throw into our recycling bins could ultimately help clean up water polluted with lead, thanks to a new development by a scientist at the University of Greenwich, London.

Nichola Coleman, a materials chemist at Greenwich, has come up with a way of reusing cullet, fragments of glass jars and bottles, to create a naturally-found rock mineral called tobermorite, which can remove toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium from contaminated water.

"Tobermorite is a natural type of cement that forms when alkaline water passes through volcanic rock in the ground," Nichola tells The Earth Times. "Using it to clean up lead is a completely new application that, to my knowledge, hadn't been investigated in this way before now. I found that it works by acting as a chemical filter and allows the water to pass through while absorbing and trapping the heavy metals."

Across Europe, millions of tonnes of glass are thrown out for recycling, but not all of this can be melted down to make new glass.

"We import a lot of beer and wine bottles in the UK but while we're able to recycle most of them, we're still sending about 40% to landfills." she explains.

"I explored whether it'd be possible to use this type of glass to make tobermorite and found that I was able to emulate the natural geological process just by combining the glass with cement waste and heating up the mixture with water."

This means that it may be possible to make large quantities of tobermorite relatively cheaply.

"At the moment cement is used to stop polluted water from reaching an uncontaminated area. But not only is cement expensive, it has a huge carbon footprint - making one tonne of cement creates 1 tonne of carbon dioxide." Nichola points out. "Tobermorite, on the other hand, uses a fraction of the energy and raw materials that's needed to make cement."

Her work has now been published in the International Journal of Environment and Waste Management.

"It's exciting to see a waste product turn into something that could end up helping the environment instead of harming it," she concludes.

Top Image Credit: © briandaly

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Topics: Recycling / Carbon Dioxide