A material made from waste cooking oil and sulphur that can soak up oil spills and other pollution will be commercialised following a deal between its South Australian inventors and a Singaporean company.
The collaboration between Flinders University and Clean Earth Technologies will result in a manufacturing facility in South Australia to produce commercial quantities of the absorbent polysulfide.
CET executives visited the South Australian capital Adelaide to formalise the agreement, which assigns a suite of patents to the Singapore-based company ahead of production for global markets.
The patents cover numerous areas, including a class of novel polymers used for environmental remediation, and a new mercury- and cyanide-free method of precious metal extraction and recovery.
The sponge-like polymer was developed by an international team headed by Flinders University Associate Professor Justin Chalker and can be made of waste cooking oil from fast food outlets and sulphur – a by-product of the petroleum industry.
The product is hydrophobic – meaning that it separates from water and binds well to oil. The polymer absorbs oil much like a sponge, forming a gel that can be scooped out of the water.
It is capable of absorbing 2 to 3 times its mass in oil or diesel and is reusable. The recovered oil can be squeezed from the polymer like water from a sponge and the oil can also be reused.
When still in its early stage of development, Assoc Professor Chalker described the product as a new class of oil sorbent that is low-cost, scalable and enables the efficient removal and recovery of oil from water.
“Just making a product from waste, regardless of what the end use, is a viable thing to think about. In this case, we’re converting waste into something that can help clean up the environment,” he says.
“We hope that our material will play a role in remediation and that’s the hallmark of impact.”
The agreement also includes a research collaboration that will provide ongoing funding for the Chalker Research Lab, including scholarships and salaries for researchers, and royalties as they continue to find new ways to use the breakthrough product.
CET Chairman and Co-Founder Paul Hanna said the partnership was an important step forward in the company’s search for an answer to some of the world’s most pressing environmental waste problems.
He said the new solutions complemented CET’s existing cyanide and mercury-free gold processing technology.
“We are heavily focused on some of the biggest and most challenging environmental problems in the world today – devastating oil spills, growing piles of e-waste and toxic mercury pollution,” Hanna says.
He says that countries are also grappling with the same big issues and they come at a huge financial, social and environmental cost.
“We are looking for smarter, more effective solutions and our partnership with Flinders University, and the Chalker Research Lab, will go a long way to addressing many of these problems. Technology like this, that uses waste to solve waste problems, has huge advantages for industry at the big end of town. It can also save the lives of thousands of small, artisanal miners around the world who use poisonous chemicals, like mercury, to survive and the communities around them,” Hanna adds.
By Andrew Spence