Australian scientists accidentally discover new material made from orange peel that 'grabs' mercury out of water

The new material, made from sulphur and limonene, could one day save lives

Doug Bolton
Thursday 22 October 2015 18:43 BST
Could oranges help prevent mercury pollution?
Could oranges help prevent mercury pollution?

Scientists in Austrlia have accidentally stumbled across a new material made from orange peels that could save lives by removing mercury from water.

As the New Daily reports, reserachers Max Worthington and Justin Chalker, from Flinders University in Adelaide discovered the unusual properties of the new material as they were attempting to create a new kind of plastic from commonly discarded, widely available products.

By reacting together sulphur, a by-product of the petroleum industry and limonene, a chemical present in orange oil that is produced by the citrus industry, the pair created a material that looks like a soft red rubber.

Dr Chalker said the material can "grab mercury out of the water," and is not itself harmful to the environment.

The material, sulphur-limonene polysulphide, is very cheap to produce, and the pair now hope it could one day be used in environmental cleanups, or even to coat water pipes.

Mercury pollution, due to the extreme toxicity of the chemical, is a big problem. Half of the world's mercury emissions come from volcanoes, but the other half comes from human activity like the burning of fossil fuels and mining.

As a result, mercury levels in the oceans have tripled since the Industrial Revolution.

It's particularly harmful to children and pregnant women, and can be ingested by eating fish that live in the polluted oceans.

If the new material developed by Dr Chalker and Dr Worthington proves to be efficient and effective, it could one day help protect humans and wildlife from the worst effects of mercury poisoning.

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