Drawing a bead on waste

Hungry molecules inhabiting pores in minuscule ceramic beads could soon be cleaning up vast amounts of contaminated soil and water. Researchers at the US energy department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNL) in Washington believe the beads may be the best pollution-buster yet. Ounce for ounce, the ceramic beads can devour more mercury or lead than anything else, reports PNL scientist Jim Liu. He says a tablespoon of these beads sprinkled over hazardous-waste site would act as a "sponge" with surface area as big as A football field. And the molecules can be tailored for industrial chores, such as extracting precious metals from waste water at mines. The technology is called SAMMS - self-assembled monolayers on meso-porous supports. PNL is currently working with Mobil Corp, which developed the process that stuffs the ceramic with the cleaning molecules, on plans to launch SAMMS demonstration projects next year.

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