What’s the most significant feature of a chemical product? Some people would say that how a commodity performs is the only thing that matters. But we, at Sirius International, are looking towards our planet’s future and we want it to be sustainable.
Being aware of the environmental impact of chemical products is a crucial step to adopting the right mindset in our industry. For the sake of our world we should all focus on where a product ends up as well as how it performs. That’s why we sustain an innovative mindset, and we give a chance to young talents to take part in the processes forming the next generation’s environment. This being said, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time exploring the detergents’ afterlife so that we can understand better what their whole life cycle looks like.
Today we’ll talk about cradle to cradle synergies taking into consideration the experiments conducted by our intern Gerard Visser, bachelor student at Utrecht’s school for chemical technology. His “Adsorption Capacities of Zeolites” research investigates the effects of zeolites from washing powders in the sewer system. Due to the usage of solid washing detergents, on average 2.88 grams of zeolites per day per person end up in the sewerage. Zeolites are porous, crystalline, hydrated aluminium silicates with a spatial structure made of pyramid-like tetrahedrons.
At the same time, surface water, groundwater and wastewater contain many pollutants. One of the most potent pollutants is ammonia because it contributes to accelerated eutrophication of lakes and rivers, dissolved oxygen depletion and thus fish toxicity.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could design the zeolites in washing powder such, that, after their job in washing machines is done, they absorb a maximum amount of ammonia in sewer and wastewater systems? The primary mechanism that accounts for the adsorption of ammonium ions onto zeolites is ion exchange. Every tetrahedron of the zeolite molecule has a general molecule formula which is TO4. Hereby is T: Al3+ or Si4+ and each oxygen atom has a charge O2-.
In the middle of each tetrahedron sits a Al3+ or Si4+atom, surrounded by 4 O2-atoms on the corners of the pyramid. Therefore the total charge of zeolites is a net negative, and this charge is used for the adsorption of (positively charged) cations. Because of this effect, zeolites are capable of binding ammonia (NH4+) and medicine residues. “To determine the effect of the zeolites in waste water, the following experiments had been performed: length of time, weight variation, temperature variation, pH variation, calcium saturation, medicine residues, and sewage water”. Gerard Visser tested 6 different zeolites.
Some treatments increase absorption capacity. For example, when heating up a zeolite to 400oC for a couple of hours, the capacity would increase. The heat removes the last water molecules from the pores, especially the smaller sections of the zeolite pores. When this treatment is applied, the zeolite is called “activated”. There’re additional researches to be done in order to say whether the zeolites in the powder detergents are capable of a positive performance after they’ve achieved their initial purpose – to soften the water during washing. What if such innovation can be used in wastewater treatment? This would open a new page in the history of the chemical industry, giving endless new opportunities for cradle to cradle synergies.
The Sirius Effect:
The effect of the zeolites in wastewater still has a lot of unknown aspects. But one thing’s certain: Sirius International will keep on investing in innovations which would make the cradle to cradle synergy possible! Call us today for a copy of Gerard’s report. And make a note that his successor-intern has already started her research based on Gerard’s recommendations.
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