Patent moves business toward green, low-cost sulfate treatment

NRRI and industry partner receive patent on a first step invention that can lead to sulfate remediation in water systems. 

Minnesota just got one step closer to having another tool to address sulfate in water bodies. NRRI and American Peat Technologies in Aitkin, Minn., were issued a joint patent on a new, environmentally safe anion exchange material to remove sulfate with peat.

Ion exchange for water treatment isn’t new; it’s commonly used in soft water treatment systems. But manufacturing the ion exchange resins uses chemical solvents which are an environmental disposal problem. These resins are largely manufactured in China.

But American Peat Technology – employing the chemistry expertise of NRRI’s Igor Kolomitsyn and his chemistry team – set out to develop a peat-based anion exchange for sulfate removal that doesn’t use chemical solvents. Even better, they aimed for a low-cost, marketable solution. The patent is the first step in developing a regenerable weak acid anion exchanger that targets removal of sulfate, selenite, arsenic, phosphate and other contaminants.

“Formulation work is not quite complete at this point,” said Doug Green, American Peat Technology CEO. “But we are increasingly confident that the last of the hurdles will be cleared in the next few months.”

To develop this material, Kolomitsyn looked at the natural structural characteristics of peat at the molecular level. He was able to follow the inherent pathways of peat so that “green chemistry” principles could be used to develop novel material. Green Chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. Today, chemists commonly use a set of 12 design principles developed as metrics to develop new chemical technologies. This new peat-based material utilizes water as the only solvent and prevents harmful waste.

“Sulfate is a common problem across the globe,” said Kolomitsyn. “I have been working on this first milestone for five years, but now we need to improve capacity and achieve better stability.”

The mission of NRRI is to deliver research solutions to balance our economy, resources and environment for resilient communities.

ARCHIVE PHOTO ABOVE: APT CEO Doug Green and NRRI Chemist Igor Kolomitsyn on-site at APT.