Lab Spotlight

Extracting Heavy Metals With Vegetable Oils

USDA Metal Extraction Method Ascherl

Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Ill., created a new process that uses vegetable oils to remove metals from liquids, solids, and gases.

The chemical process, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has patented, separates heavy metal ions such as silver from water by using "functionalized" vegetable oils.

The method is simple, according to Rex Murray, research leader at NCAUR's Bio-Oils Research Unit. When functionalized oil is mixed with water contaminated with toxic heavy metals, certain atoms in the oil bind to the heavy metals and pull them from the water. This allows clean water to separate from the heavy-metal-containing oil, allowing removal from the environment.

Water contaminated with heavy metals can pose environmental concerns and serious health problems. Using vegetable oils to clean up heavy metals is environmentally friendly because vegetable oils are biodegradable, nontoxic, and derived from renewable resources.

In the past, NCAUR scientists have found other beneficial uses for vegetable oils, including inks, lubricants and diesel fuel.

Lab Spotlight