Nanostructured sorbent materials for capturing environmental mercury vapor (Case 1887)

Mercury is a toxic pollutant that can persist in the environment and build up in the food chain. While regulations and new innovations have curtailed the use of mercury in many household items such as thermometers, it remains in use in ubiquitous products such as compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) light bulbs. Hurt et. al. have developed a solution that uses nanomaterials to absorb mercury vapor, which could have widespread applications in curtailing the damage caused by this material.

Market Opportunity
Around 300 million CFLs are sold in the United States each year, in large part because they are far more long-lasting and energy-efficient than traditional incandescent light bulbs. However, there is no reliable method for capturing or stabilizing the mercury in these devices in case of a broken bulb, when the released mercury evaporates and becomes a gas. If a person were to breathe that in, 80 percent of the mercury they inhale is absorbed physiologically. 

In some states, consumers can take spent CFLs to a special recycling center where they can be safely disposed of. In the absence of such a resource, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends double-bagging the broken bulb and placing it into normal garbage collection, which does nothing to curtail mercury vapor from entering the air.

Innovation and Meaningful Advantages
Hurt’s invention includes a method and materials for using absorbent materials to capture and stabilize mercury. The material, ideally nano-scale layers made of selenium, could be used as a liner contained within the Styrofoam, cardboard, or paper packaging for CFLs or other mercury-containing items to capture the mercury in case of accidental breakage during transit to a store or from the store to a customer’s home. The same technology could be used as a kit that would allow consumers to safely and easily clean up a broken CFL by using a powder form of nano-selenium to absorb spilled mercury. Such an approach preserves the advantages of previous methods for absorbing mercury but adds new capabilities.

Collaboration Opportunity
We are interested in exploring 1) startup opportunities with investors in the recycling space; 2) licensing opportunities with recycling and shipping companies.

IP Information
2014-10-28 US8869992B2; Issued.

Primary Investigator
Robert H. Hurt, PhD
Professor of Engineering
Brown University
Brown tech ID #1887


Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Brown Technology Innovations
350 Eddy Street - Box 1949
Providence, RI 02903
Robert Hurt
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