Scientists Accidentally Discover Orange Peel Can Decontaminate Water

/ 4 years ago

orange peel

Researcher in Australia made an accidental discovery that could save the lives of thousands of people. Dr. Max Worthington and Dr. Justin Chalker from Flinders University in South Australia, found a way in which to use orange peel to remove poisonous mercury from water.

“Mercury contamination plagues many areas of the world, affecting both food and water supplies and creating a serious need for an efficient and cost-effective method to trap this mercury,” said Dr. Chalker.


Dr. Worthington and Dr. Chalker were attempting to create a new plastic polymer (above) from everyday materials, with an angle on recycling discarded waste. The pair began experimenting with sulphur, a by-product of petroleum, and limonene, which is an oil obtained from orange peel.

“We ended up settling on sulphur because it’s produced in 70 million tonnes per year by the petroleum industry as a by-product, so there are not very many uses for it, and limonene is produced in 70,000 tonnes per year and so it’s relatively cheap,” Dr Chalker said. “It literally grows on trees.”

“We take sulphur, which is a by-product of the petroleum industry, and we take limonene, which is the main component of orange oil, so is produced in large quantities by the citrus industry, and we’re able to react them together to form a type of soft red rubber, and what this material does is that it can grab mercury out of the water,” Dr. Chalker added.

Toxicity tests determined that the new polymer was not harmful to the environment, so could be used to strip mercury from water without further polluting it. “That gives us hope that we’ll be able to commercialise and actually use this in the environment,” said Dr. Chalker.

Due to industrial activities such as mining and fossil fuel-burning power stations, mercury pollution in water is rife, with levels of the metal tripling since the dawn of the industrial revolution. The substance – which is thought to be responsible for diminishing reproductive rates of sealife, as well as the birds that feed on them – is incredibly harmful to humans, being linked to numerous health issues, including lower IQ in children and persistent fatigue. In large amounts, mercury poisoning can be fatal.

Images courtesy of The New Daily.

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