Chemical engineers are developing a device to separate the particles from the water used in mining, potentially in a matter of hours rather than decades and saving billions of gallons of water. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: In Florida more than 150 square miles - about half the area of New York City - is covered with ponds holding the by-products of fertilizer mining. It will be decades until this milky, clay-filled water can be used again. SOUNDBITE (English) MARK ORAZEM, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERING, SAYING: "The problem is that this does not settle very quickly. The clay particles are charged, and -the charge of the particle causes separation to take place over a very long time typically they plan from between 25 to 50 years." Yet that slow process could shrink to just two or three hours thanks to a new device under development at the University of Florida. When clay-filled water passes through this tank an electric charge separates the solid particles leaving behind cleaner, re-usable water. SOUNDBITE (English) MARK ORAZEM, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERING, SAYING: "We believe that this process will do away the clay settling areas. It will not get rid of the existing ones but it would avoid the need to make new ones. Basically what we're trying to do is to reduce the environmental footprint for the mining operations." The researchers are now looking to scale up the device for commercial use. Orazem says the technology could become indispensable in phosphate mines around the world, especially those in the parched deserts of North Africa, where water is a precious commodity.