Today we have an update about some exciting new equipment we have acquired here in Oak Ridge that will enable us to expand our commercial opportunities and take on new and important projects. The BioLargo Engineering team is adding what is called a custom-fabricated Rotary Thermal Apparatus (RTA) to our stable of experimental equipment available in our Oak Ridge location. The RTA, pictured below, can heat target material samples to over 1,100°C (2,012°F) while rotating the sample container to simulate various full-scale thermal treatment technologies, which is important for some of our key uses for the device. The sample can be purged with an inert gas or by a reagent. Products of the thermal treatment and chemical reactions can be measured in the off-gas, which is crucial for treatability studies that we offer our clients.
The RTA has proven indispensable in providing data directly applicable to the design of thermal treatment systems (i.e. incinerators, thermal desorbers, catalytic oxidation units, etc.). The RTA can also prove useful in the development of various chemical production processes and optimization of process reactions. And last but not least, the RTA can be used by BioLargo Engineering to conduct treatability studies (more on that below) on contaminated solids (i.e. soils, sludges, slurries) for its clients, providing design data to engineers to develop procedures, predict outcomes and control costs or remediation projects.
One of the many services provided by the BLEST team includes “treatability studies”. Contamination usually comprises at least one, but usually numerous, toxic chemicals in a liquid or solid matrix (i.e. water, soil, silt, slurry, etc.). The goal for remediation of such materials is to remove the offending “targeted” chemicals as effectively as possible, using as little money and other resources as possible. Finding the best methods to conduct a remediation project comprises answering a number of technical and economic questions that can only be adequately answered through a feasibility/treatability analysis. The analysis should always include laboratory confirmation of techniques and quantified values for reagent consumption, thermal duty, and other design parameters. The RTA opens up an area of practice for BLEST that includes an entire subset of remediation technologies, including thermal oxidation, thermal desorption, thermal vitrification, and thermally enhanced chemical fixation. Ergo, the RTA provides a means to offer a much more complete set of investigative tools to the marketplace, and we can expect the acquisition of this equipment to result in our winning new contracts that we otherwise would not be able to!
One example that characterizes the power and usefulness of the RTA was when it was used to develop methods to remove mercury from soils in the Oak Ridge area and provide the basis for remediation of the East Fork Poplar Creek and Bear Creek Valleys. After the end of World War II, the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge used mercury in a process to separate isotopes of lithium. As much as 3% of the mercury used was lost to the environment. Over a period of years, the fugitive mercury moved downstream from the plant, settling in the silt of Bear Creek and the East Fork Poplar Creek.
A development program was started using the RTA to answer several questions on how best to remove the mercury from the silt and address possible indirect environmental impacts from the thermal treatment of the silt. Fundamental questions were addressed such as:
>What temperature is required to drive the mercury from the silts and soils?
>Does the desorbed mercury react with other desorbed materials to form a metallic complex with minerals in the soils and silts?
>Can the addition of certain reagents bind the mercury so that it becomes inert in the environment?
>How long must the soils/silts be treated to drive the mercury out?
>What degree of decontamination is achievable versus what is reasonable and economically supportable?
>What type of air pollution control system will be required to condense and recover the mercury once it is driven from the contaminated solids
>Can the mercury recovered be recycled into the market, of does it contain other contaminants that prevent resale?
The RTA proved a valuable tool in the successful execution of the environmental clean up of Poplar Creek and Bear Creek. At BLEST, we are confident that the RTA can be used to address many similar challenges and are eager to explore new applications for this unique new tool.