Zapping Toxic Waste With 1.5 Million Volts

Solid particles in hazardous waste interfere with new techniques that use ultraviolet light, ozone, and hydrogen peroxide to treat such waste. Now, scientists have developed a way around that. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Florida International University, and the University of Miami have achieved this advance by using so-called electron-beam accelerators.

The Los Alamos accelerator emits an especially high dose of energy--1.5 million volts--in the form of a pulsed, rather than constant, beam of electrons. The pulsing separates the process into two phases. First, the electrons react with water molecules to make highly reactive free radicals. In the second phase, the free radicals oxidize organic contaminants such as carbon tetrachloride and acetone to form harmless substances such as carbon dioxide and salt, according to Los Alamos engineer Garry Allen. The group is seeking funds for a pilot plant and eventual commercialization.

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