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In the vial, the oil droplet's red color shows that it absorbed metals from the water/metal solution. Click the image for more information about it.

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Extracting Heavy Metals with Vegetable Oils

By Sandra Avant
August 17, 2016

A new process patented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses vegetable oils to remove metals from liquids, solids and gases.

Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Illinois, created a chemical process to separate heavy metal ions such as silver from water by using "functionalized" vegetable oils.

The method is simple, according to Rex Murray, research leader at NCAUR's Bio-Oils Research Unit. When functionalized oil is mixed with water contaminated with toxic heavy metals, certain atoms in the oil bind to the heavy metals and pull them from the water. This allows clean water to separate from the heavy-metal-containing oil, allowing for removal from the environment.

Water contaminated with heavy metals can pose environmental concerns and serious health problems. Using vegetable oils to clean up heavy metals is environmentally friendly, because vegetable oils are biodegradable, nontoxic, and are derived from renewable resources.

In the past, NCAUR scientists have found other beneficial uses for vegetable oils, which include use as inks, lubricants and diesel fuel.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency.

Read more about this research in the August 2016 AgResearch magazine.