TCE Cleanup with Gold Nanoparticles

Cost is the major hurdle to cleaning up TCE-polluted groundwater. Cleanup costs for TCE nationwide are estimated in the billions of dollars.

The Department of Defense alone estimates the cost of bringing its 1,400 TCE-contaminated sites into Environmental PA compliance at more than $5 billion.

Researchers at Rice University and Georgia Institute of Technology have found that gold nanoparticles coated with palladium are extremely effective catalysts for breaking down toxic chemicals such as TCE into less harmful products. Using a treatment of gold nanoparticles, the researchers hope to drive down the costs of cleanup operations by eliminating:

• the drilling costs for new wells,

• the construction costs for surface treatment facilities, and

• the energy costs of pumping up water to the surface.

Tests have found that the gold-palladium nanocatalysts break TCE down about 100 times faster than bulk palladium catalysts. One of the major advantages of using palladium catalysts to break down TCE is that palladium converts TCE directly into nontoxic ethene and ethane, colorless, odorless, and gaseous hydrocarbons.

The researchers have another idea and that is to develop a device that would include a cylindrical pump containing a catalytic membrane of the gold-palladium nanoparticles. The device would be placed down existing wells where it would pump water through continuously breaking the TCE into nontoxic components.

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