From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published November 26, 2012 09:27 AM

New Development for Phytoremediation: Harvesting Collected Contaminants

A team of researchers led by the University of Warwick are about to embark on a research program called "Cleaning Land for Wealth" (CL4W), that will use a common class of flower to restore poisoned soils while at the same time produce platinum and arsenic nanoparticles that can be used in a range of applications.


A "Sandpit" exercise organized by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council allowed researchers from the Warwick Manufacturing group (WMG) at five universities to share technologies and skills to come up with an innovative multidisciplinary research project that could "help solve major technological and environmental challenges."

The researchers collaborated on how to use plants and bacteria to absorb particular elements and chemicals and how to subsequently harvest, process and collect that material. From this, they have come up with a way to demonstrate the feasibility in which they can use common flowers and plants to remove poisonous chemicals such as arsenic and platinum from polluted land and water sources potentially allowing that land to be reclaimed and reused.

Phytoremediation is the process of using plants to absorb the poisons and metals out of the ground and distributed these contaminants to different parts of the plant above the soil. For this reason, plantings of certain species are often used in remediation strategies. One such plant that researchers hope to use is Alyssum, a native plant to Europe that is comprised of annual and perennial herbaceous plants or small shrubs and have oval leaves and white and yellow flowers.

As the exercise progressed, researchers found that they could not only clean up the land, but could reuse the absorbed pollutants. Lead researcher, Professor Kerry Kirwan from WMG at the University of Warwick explained:

"The processes we are developing will not only remove poisons such as arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, we are also confident that we can develop suitable biology and biorefining processes (or biofactories as we are calling them) that can tailor the shapes and sizes of the metallic nanoparticles they will make. This would give manufacturers of catalytic convertors, developers of cancer treatments and other applicable technologies exactly the right shape, size and functionality they need without subsequent refinement. We are also expecting to recover other high value materials such as fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, anti-oxidants etc. from the crops during the same biorefining process."

See more at the University of Warwick

Sweet Alyssum image via Shutterstock. 

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