Nanotech takes on water pollution

Cleaning up contaminated water is big business, which explains all the companies coming up with tiny solutions.

By Melanie Haiken, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Cleaning up contaminated water is big business. World demand for treatment is forecast to increase 6 percent per year through 2009 to more than $35 billion, according to a 2006 report by research firm Freedonia.

A new generation of nanotechnology companies is focused squarely on this market, using nanoparticles that form chemical bonds with contaminants and don't let go. Thiol-SAMMS, a powder first developed by Battelle Labs for the Department of Energy, was brought to market last year by Steward Environmental Solutions of Chattanooga, Tenn. It can suck up 60 percent of its own weight in mercury, arsenic, lead, and other metals and is so absorbent that a single tablespoonful has the same surface area as a football field.

Steward is rapidly scaling up production. "We've certainly met our investors' expectations," says Steward VP Robert Jones.

Meanwhile, a host of water-cleaning products are scheduled to come to market in late 2007. NanoDynamics of Buffalo, N.Y., is set to introduce its "cell-pore" ceramic filters, in which tiny holes are lined with highly absorbent nanocrystals. NanoScale of Manhattan, Kan., is releasing a line of products growing out of the success of Fast-Act -- a chemical cleaner first developed for the military.

And there are plenty of treatments still in the lab. Researchers at Rice University have demonstrated "nanorust" -- microscopic particles of the metal magnetite that bond to arsenic in water and can then be lifted out with an ordinary magnet.

Says Richard Sustich, development manager of the WaterCAMPWS research institute at the University of Illinois, "Within five years there's going to be an explosion of new materials that will change the way we do everything." Top of page

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