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Can MXenes Solve Mercury Contamination?

Not only is mercury incredibly toxic, but the evasive mineral — appropriately nicknamed quicksilver — has unique abilities to quickly alter its chemical form, making it difficult to remove from waterways where it collects and persists, threatening marine life and human health.

Mercury pollution has become so pervasive that health authorities recommend avoiding eating certain species of fish altogether.

A Drexel-led team has discovered a simple and effective new technique for removing mercury using MXenes, a family of two-dimensional nanomaterials with exceptional properties that was discovered at Drexel more than a decade ago.

College of Engineering Professor Masoud Soroush and his colleagues at Drexel and Temple University modified the surface of titanium carbide MXene flakes — which bear a negative chemical charge — producing an adsorbent that attracts and retains positively charged mercury ions.

By synthesizing carboxylated titanium carbide MXene, Soroush and his team were able to remove 95 percent of mercury ions from a water sample contaminated at a concentration of 50 parts per million within just one minute — faster and more effectively than adsorbents in current use.

Their method, which appeared in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, demonstrated that the material is sufficiently effective and efficient to be used in large-scale wastewater treatment.