For years, water sources such as wells, rivers, and oceans, have been heavily contaminated by mercury, oil spills, and other toxic chemicals over the years. A research team from Wales invented a new machine which can safely remove toxic chemicals from water in an an environmentally friendly way.

Scientists from Swansea University have invented the Matrix Assembly Cluster Source (MACS). The machine treats water by removing toxic chemicals using a solvent-free approach.

Solvent cleaners are chemicals that clean contaminations by dissolving unwanted liquids, solids, or gases, also known as solutes. Industrial cleaners such as acetone and hexane are organic chemicals yet harmful when inhaled.

The Institute for Innovative Materials, Processing, and Numerical Technologies (IMPACT), part of the College of Engineering at Swansea University designed the machine which treats water in an environmentally-friendly way by being solvent-free. Professor Richard Palmer, who leads the team, explained that several 'harmful organic molecules are destroyed by a powerful oxidizing agent, ozone, which is boosted by a catalyst.' These catalysts are created by using solvents processed through chemical methods.

Factories using chemical methods often result in effluents or liquid waste that contaminates rivers or nearby bodies of water. The team hopes to eliminate these kinds of toxic deposits.

Solvent-free Process

'The Swansea innovation is a newly invented the machine that manufactures the catalyst by physical methods, involving no solvent, and therefore no effluent. The new technique is a step-change in the approach to water treatment and other catalytic processes,' explained Professor Palmer.

Their new approach involves developing catalysts for water treatments using a physical process instead of a chemical process. The MACS machine uses a vacuum with catalyst particles made of silver atom clusters. The entire process is solvent-free.

Professor Palmer continues, 'it solves the long-standing problem of low cluster production rate -meaning, for the first time, it is now possible to produce enough clusters for study at the test-tube level, with the potential to then scale-up further to the level of small-batch manufacturing and beyond.'

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Removing Toxic Chemicals

Precise control over the nano-sized clusters is accompanied by applying it to nitrophenol, a process the study notes as cluster beam deposition (CBD). Nitrophenol is an organic compound derived from phenol and is used to manufacture drugs, insecticides, fungicides, dyes for leather, and in this case, a 'model compound for the water treatment industry.'

The harmful organic pollutant is one of the most toxic and highly detected compounds in wastewaters from industries and agriculture. Exposure to nitrophenol can cause skin and eye irritation as well and liver and kidney damage. Ozonized nitrophenol is crucial in removing toxic chemicals in waters, using silver and gold clusters catalysts.

Professor Palmer summarizes their findings as 'the MACS approach to the nanoscale design of functional materials opens up completely new horizons across a wide range of disciplines -- from physics and chemistry to biology and engineering. Thus, it has the power to enable radical advances in advanced technology -- catalysts, biosensors, materials for renewable energy generation, and storage. It seems highly appropriate that the first practical demonstration of Swansea's environmentally friendly manufacturing process concerns something we are all concerned about -- clean water!' 

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