Washington, June 29 : Scientists at Brown University say that they have identified a nanomaterial that can be used to create that has the mercury-absorbent linings for broken compact fluorescent lamps (CFL).
Robert Hurt, a professor of engineering who worked with his student Natalie Johnson on this project, says that the materials are ready for commercial use.
A broken CFL may release a small amount of mercury, known to be a neurotoxin, into the environment in the form of vapour. The gas may affect infants, small children, and pregnant women.
Mercury can escape from plastic bags containing discarded bulbs, which makes long-term storage, disposal or recycling tricky.
However, the Brown University researchers claim that they have developed linings coated with a type of nanoselenium that can provide a solution to the environmental conundrum by absorbing the mercury vapour emanating from a broken bulb.
It can even capture the mercury of bulb broken in the box, they say.
In controlled experiments, the scientists found that 99 per cent of mercury vapour from a CFL broken in a sealed chamber was mopped up by nanoselenium in concentrations ranging from one to five milligrams.
Just as a bulb breaks, all that a user has to do is to undo the packaging, and lay it on the spot where the break occurred.
The absorbent material is effective on different surfaces, including carpets and hardwood floors.
The research team has also created a specially designed lining for plastic bags that soaks up the mercury left over from the CFL shards that are thrown away.
The researchers say that their mercury-absorbent packaging and lined plastic bags can be safely discarded and recycled, and thus do not carry any risk of contamination or other unwanted environmental consequences.
"It's a complete management system to deal with a bulb broken in the home," says Hurt, director of Brown's Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, which concentrates on the study and commercial application of nanotechnology.
The University has already applied for federal patents for their inventions, and is expecting to begin discussions with companies on manufacturing the new technology soon.
The precise manufacturing costs will need to be determined by interested companies.
A research article on the packaging invention appears in the online edition of Environmental Science and Technology.