Scientists are becoming more and more involved in creating something helpful from pollution. This is a new thought process because normally environmental problems would be solved by just cleaning them up. According to the article, “Wealth from waste – three ways pollution can be turned into something useful”, researchers have demonstrated many ways that useful products can be obtained from waste in industry and agriculture. All of this can be done while repairing contaminated water, soil and air. How air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution can be cleaned up and used to the environment’s benefit.
Air pollution is detrimental to our environment and occurs when harmful substances are introduced into the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions can cause climate change and scientist are eagerly trying to fix this. New processes are being developed by researchers. Such processes are capturing carbon dioxide and converting it into useful chemicals like methanol. Methanol can be used for fuel cells. Carbon dioxide can also be converted to urea. Urea is used as a solvent in the chemical industry and in nitrogen fertilizer. It is also in lactic acid which can be used as a food preservative. In addition, “carbon dioxide can also be captured and used to grow algae, which are then harvested for biofuel”. As you can see, these processes developed by researchers can clean our air and be used to develop beneficial products.
Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies, usually as a result of human activity. Wastewater is what is flushed away from all of our homes, offices, public buildings and much more. This wastewater “contains toxins and organic pollutants that treatment facilities remove before they can reach natural water systems like rivers and the ocean”. As stated in the article, researchers are trying to recover and turn the organic matter into something useful. There are two essential soil nutrients, phosphorus and nitrogen, that are found in wastewater. These nutrients can be returned to farms as fertilizer. Microorganisms have been taught to break down toxic contaminants from the wastewater and make electricity from them.
The article states, “As well as cleaning the water, microbial fuel cells would turn wastewater treatment facilities into giant batteries for green energy as electrochemically active bacteria degrade organic substances and release electrons to generate an electric current”. A microbial is an organism that can cause disease. The goal of microbial fuel cell technology is to remove toxins from wastewater and since the cell produces a small electric current while removing the toxins, wastewater treatments will become greener. This technology will also prove to be cost effective as well.
Lastly, there is soil pollution which occurs because there are chemicals in the soil typically caused by industrial activity, agricultural chemicals or the improper disposal of waste. Soil contaminated with heavy metals is hard to solve. Usually, the only way to solve this issue is by digging out the contaminated soil and disposing of it at a landfill. But, this is not a solid solution because these metals can leak into the underground water reservoirs and wind up in plants and crops. The article states that there is an alternative method that involves biorefinery and phtoremediation. “Biorefinery means processing biomass – such as food waste and the plant remains from agriculture – to produce valuable commodities”. This is similar to a composter where we take the scraps and use them more productively. “Phytoremediation cleans up environmental pollution using plants to extract metals from the contaminated soil in the same way a white rose would absorb red food coloring from dyed water and grow red petals”.
For example, there is a plant, the Chinese brake fern that acquires arsenic as it grows. This plant could be used to clean up areas that are contaminated with arsenic. Phytoremediation can also be used to recover rare earth elements and precious metals from places polluted from electrical waste disposal. When the plants with metal deposits are harvested, the toxic metals can be removed and the plant’s biomass can be processed to recover metals. These metals can be used in energy production, fuel and industrial chemicals. Since we discussed rare earth metals this week, the process of phytoremediation could be used in the mining of these rare earth elements.
As we continue to strive to be more environmentally friendly and greener, new processes are being discovered to help with this. These processes are also proving to be cost effective because it is essentially using what we have and recycling them into something better. Advances to remediate air, water and soil pollution are leading to new technology and safer, more efficient resources.
- Sotenko, Maria. “Wealth from Waste – Three Ways Pollution Can Be Turned into Something Useful.” The Conversation, 30 Apr. 2019, theconversation.com/wealth-from-waste-three-ways-pollution-can-be-turned-into-something-useful-114448.
- Cox, Alissa, et al. “Generating Electricity While Microbes Clean Wastewater – How Wastewater Treatment Plants Could Go from Brown to Green.” Envirobites, 4 Aug. 2017, envirobites.org/2017/08/04/generating-electricity-while-microbes-clean-wastewater-how-wastewater-treatment-plants-could-go-from-brown-to-green/.