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Gas treatment technology makes top 100 list

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September 09, 1993 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. — A new technique for destroying a number of toxic gases has been named one of the top 100 technological developments of 1993 by Research & Development magazine. The technology was developed for the U.S. Department of Energy by the Pacific Northwest Laboratory. Battelle operates the national laboratory for DOE.

The magazine conducts the annual R&D 100 Award competition to honor the most promising new products, processes, materials or software developed throughout the world. Awards are based on the development's technical significance, uniqueness and usefulness. This is the 31st annual competition.

PNL's award-winning technology "zaps" contaminants within gas streams using the same kind of electrical streams of ionized gas that are found in lightning bolts. This "lightning bolt in a tube," called plasma, alters the chemical composition of certain toxic industrial wastes more cost-effectively and efficiently than alternative methods including catalytic incineration.

The High Energy Corona system was developed to treat toxic vapors from soil contamination, and PNL researchers believe it has potential for treating industrial emissions or even automobile exhaust.

As contaminants are pulled through the High Energy Corona system - a tube filled with beads - an electric field is established to create the plasma. The plasma oxidizes or consumes the contaminants rapidly, typically in one second or less. During field tests in May 1993, the High Energy Corona destroyed trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene with 99 percent efficiency. Trichloroethlyne was commonly used as a solvent by dry cleaners and painters but is now listed as a carcinogen and is one of the most common soil contaminants in the United States.

In laboratory tests, essentially the same type of electrical plasma destroyed many additional organic compounds identified as hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, such as polycyclic naphthalene or "Town Gas," a widespread problem on the East Coast which is proving too costly to clean up by conventional methods.

Despite its name, the High Energy Corona system uses very little energy and operates near ambient temperatures and pressures. Because of the low temperatures, this process does not produce hazardous byproducts such as dioxins and nitrogen oxide, which are typically associated with high temperature incineration. Treating chlorinated solvents does produce hydrochloric acids but in those cases, the remaining gas can be scrubbed with water and neutralized with ordinary baking soda, resulting in water, salt and essentially clean air with just slightly elevated levels of carbon dioxide.

Battelle researchers William Heath, Jud Virden, Steve Goheen and Dick Richardson were honored by R&D Magazine for their work on the High Energy Corona. PNL is currently negotiating industrial partnerships to help commercialize the technology.




Tags: Energy, Environment, Emissions

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