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Australian Scientists Using Solar Energy Materials to Detect Pollutants

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At the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science in Australia, researchers have discovered two new breakthroughs that use solar energy technology to detect harmful pollutants in the surrounding environment. Both discoveries could bring about faster and more sustainable ways to track these pollutants and protect biodiversity and human health.
Australian Scientists Using Solar Energy Materials to Detect Pollutants
Dr. Wenping Yin, Monash University

Detecting Methyl Iodide

The first discovery concerns detecting harmful compounds in the air that can sometimes be invisible. Specifically, researchers at the Centre,  led by Dr. Wenping Yin, have been working towards an improved method of detecting methyl iodide, which you can find in some pesticides and fumigants. These chemicals can be prominent in the agricultural industry.

Methyl iodide can be hard to detect since it’s invisible and doesn’t smell. It’s hard, then, to know how much of this substance is in a given area. If there’s a significant amount, it could be harmful to human health and surrounding ecosystems. Until this new discovery, using expensive lab equipment for testing samples has been the most effective way to monitor methyl iodide. However, this method takes time and plenty of resources.

The newest method uses solar energy technology to detect harmful substances like methyl iodide, other pesticides, and chemical warfare agents. Researchers are using the latest photovoltaic tech to get solar cells that help create a robust detection system. This system uses light to identify the toxins and determine how much of the toxins are present.

From the solar tech, these researchers have been able to derive synthetic nanocrystals based on a perovskite structure, which has ultimately become the core of the detection system. The fluorescent nanocrystals react with the toxin in the air and will change color based on what the substance is. For methyl iodide, the color will become visible as green, then shift to yellow, orange, red, and a deeper red depending on the amount.

This new detection method only takes a few seconds and could be expanded to detect an extensive range of invisible toxins with the right financial funding for solar projects like this one.

Textile Cleanup

The second discovery from the Centre involves using solar energy to break down the toxic dyes in textiles that go to waste. These dyes mostly come from the textile industry and then threaten ecosystems, water quality, and biodiversity.

The new method involves the photocatalysis process, where the system transforms sunlight into chemical energy to cause chemical reactions within the liquid. The main difference from a typical solar conversion is that this method requires semiconductors in a liquid particle form to make these reactions happen. Then, the liquid allows the breakdown of the dyes in wastewater.

This use of the sun’s energy comes at a time when solar projects are on the rise. As textile cleanup and toxin detection become more widespread, you’ll likely see major companies and organizations using solar energy and technology in innovative ways.

In addition, these newer methods use fewer resources, which makes them sustainable. For instance, the researchers working on the textile cleanup breakthrough are using bismuth sulfide and gold nanoparticles. This step reduces necessary materials like gold and creates the correct chemical reaction.

On a larger scale, this discovery could help sustainably clean up wastewater everywhere.

The Power of Solar

With these two breakthroughs, solar energy and technology have become more invaluable than ever. They show that, with the right approach and resources, sustainable change is possible. Solar tech facilitates these possibilities.

 

Author: Shannon Flynn

Shannon is a renewable energy and environmental tech writer for Renewable Energy, as well as Energy Central and Alternative Energy Magazine. You can read more of Shannon's work at ReHack.com.

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