News with a Twist: Anne Cutler Reports
4:06 p.m. CST, February 27, 2012
Most major construction projects require an environmental assessment. Using Geoprobe machinery, companies like Walker-Hill Environmental drill deep into the earth, pound in a sample tube and pull out layers of soil. Then it's up to someone like NanoFex’s David Culpepper to analyze it. He’s looking for “changes in soil type and geology, presence of contamination such as gasoline or diesel, hydrocarbons.”
Culpepper has conducted environmental assessments for decades and has seen the multi-billion dollar industry grow. “As we become more aware of the effects of different chemicals on human health and the environment,” says Culpepper, “it becomes more and more important.”
At Tulane University, Dr. Vijay John and his researchers are doing their part to tackle the problem. They've developed "NanoFex particles,” which revolutionize how contaminated groundwater is cleaned.
John Christie develops new healthcare and technological advancements at Tulane. He explains, “These happen to work very well at remediating the trichlorethylene problem after drycleaning facilities and other cleansers. Air Force sites have a big problem with this because they use it to clean jet fuel.”
What sets this technology apart is that it relies on local resources like sucrose from Louisiana sugarcane and biopolymers from our crawfish.
Inside his Tulane lab, researcher Bhanu Sunkara begins with sucrose and iron, which is sent through an atomizer. The resulting mist then travels to something called a tube furnace. Sunkara explains, “So once this aerosol comes into the heating unit, the solvent evaporates and the sugar dehydrates to form carbon and the ion particles sit on the carbon. So that’s how you make the composite particles.”
Those composite particles are coated in the waxy material from the crawfish shells and pumped into the soil, where they absorb contamination and naturally degrade. The NanoFex technology reduces clean-up time from decades to months. Even more promising, it could create a new industry in Louisiana, turning sugar cane and crawfish shells into high-paying green collar jobs