Water softening techniques are very effective for removing minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which occur as positively-charged ions in “hard” water. But many heavy metals and other inorganic pollutants form negatively-charged ions in water, and existing water treatment processes to remove them are inefficient and expensive.
Chemists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have now developed a new type of material that can soak up negatively-charged pollutants from water. The new material, which they call SLUG-26, could be used to treat polluted water through an ion exchange process similar to water softening. In a water softener, sodium ions weakly attached to a negatively-charged resin are exchanged for the hard-water minerals, which are held more tightly by the resin. SLUG-26 provides a positively-charged substrate that can exchange a nontoxic negative ion for the negatively-charged pollutants.
“Our goal for the past 12 years has been to make materials that can trap pollutants, and we finally got what we wanted. The data show that the exchange process works,” said Scott Oliver, associate professor of chemistry at UC Santa Cruz.
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