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Press Release 93-31
Linda S. Ellis
(Bus: 216/433-2900)

Water Purification System May Result from Space Research at NASA Lewis Research Center

Cleveland, OH -- A new material for removing toxic metals from water may benefit hundreds of industries that produce large amounts of contaminated waste water.

Researchers at NASA's Lewis Research Center have developed an ion exchange material that in laboratory tests can effectively remove contaminants from water such as mercury, lead, cadmium, silver, copper, zinc, nickel, yttrium and chromium.

"The tests also show that the new material is easy to use and inexpensive to produce. It is strong, flexible and chemically very stable in storage," according to Dr. Warren H. Philipp, Senior Research Chemist in the Materials Division. He and Ken Street, Head of the Chemical Sampling and Analysis Branch of the Office of Environmental Programs, invented the material.

The ion exchange membrane originally was developed as a separator in batteries for use in space flight. The separator can be made in many different forms and sizes including thin films, coatings, pellets and fibers for use in larger systems.

These various forms allow the material to be usable in many different applications, including woven fiber filters for home water filters, packed columns of pellets for industrial use and coatings on screens which can be drawn through ponds and lakes needing cleaning.

Drs. Philipp and Street point out that another important feature of the ion exchange material is that adsorbed or collected metals can be easily reclaimed by either a destructive or a non-destructive process.

Through the destructive process, the used ion exchange material is ashed and produces carbon dioxide and water vapor. Oxides of the adsorbed metals remain as ash and can be recycled.

With the non-destructive process, the heavy metals are removed from the ion exchange material and reclaimed by an acid stripping process. The material then is reusable, and the metal concentrate can be recycled.

To extend the effort beyond the laboratory, NASA Lewis Research Center has signed a space act agreement with Aetna Plating Company, Cleveland, to validate the ion exchange material in an industrial setting.

Under terms of the agreement, Aetna will allow testing of the ion exchange material in their industrial electroplating operation to assess the material's effectiveness as an agent for removing heavy metals.

The Lewis Technology Utilization Office is responsible for project management. Cooperating and assisting on the project are the Cleveland Advanced Manufacturing Program's Advanced Manufacturing Center and Cleveland State University.

This ion exchange material is an example of technology transfer - technology developed for one purpose that can be applied to uses different from the original intent.

Through its Technology Utilization Program, NASA seeks to encourage greater use of the knowledge bank by providing a link between the NASA research community and those that might develop the product of that research into a commercial technology or product.

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