Concerns in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan and possible terrorist attacks using nuclear materials prompted the US team, led by Dr. Allen Apblett from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, to pursue their research.
Dr. Apblett presented the team’s findings last week to the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), and he told BeverageDaily.com that his university’s Tecnology Development Center was looking to license the technology.
Namely for applications such a fruit juice purification, removal of strontium from milk, removal of heavy metals from vitamin supplements and removal of arsenic from brown rice syrup, an organic sweetener used by consumers and in several energy drinks, baby formula and cereal bars.
Apblett told BeverageDaily.com:“Perhaps the more immediate commercialisation will be through use by juice and calcium supplement manufacturers. We are working on establishing at least one more spin-off company (or licensing the effort) to make a capsule for consumers to purify their own beverages.
“I hope that six months to a year would be sufficient to see products on the shelves. Regulatory requirements will likely cause delays.”
‘Pulls out’ unwanted substances
The technology – which can be used by food and beverage firms or home consumers – uses nanoparticles composed of metal oxides (various metals combined with oxygen); these react with radioactive materials and other unwanted substances and ‘pull’ them out of a given solution.
Apblett revealed that the scientists were using two different types of nanoparticles – one for arsenic, another for heavy metals and radionuclides – with material used scaled for use in 2 litres of juice and 4 litres of milk, at a reasonable price vis-à-vis the end products.
The particles can absorb all 15 of the so-called ‘actinide’ chemical elements – plutonium, actinium, curium and uranium – as well as non-actinide radioactive metals such as strontium, as well as lead, arsenic, cadmium and other non-radioactive elements.
Capsules (for home use) would be made from porous polyethylene and contain pellets – a high surface area catalyst support upon which nanoparticles were immobilised, Apblett explained; processors would be offered a column of these pellets rather than the capsules.
No adverse taste effects
Apblett said that the pellets had no effect on product taste, and were manufactured from non-toxic substances, while using the pellets as a catalyst support ensured that no nanoparticles would be released into liquids.
“This ensures fast sorption of the toxic species in the beverages, while also preventing contamination of the beverage by the nanoparticles,” he said.
Asked whether he envisaged juice or dairy processors using the pellets within production to avoid adverse publicity from potential health ‘scares’ – such as 2011 US concerns about arsenic in apple juice – or if it would be used instead as a response to a crisis event such as Fukushima, Apblett said:
“I think waiting for a nuclear accident or nuclear attack would make for a poor business model so I envisage that dairy or juice producers would be much better customers.
“Since contaminated juices often have origins from certain countries, it may behoove government officials to pursue a purification process for exports.”Consumers may also be interested in removing small traces of radiostrontium to which we are continually exposed, Apblett added.
Regulatory hurdles could be more of an issue for direct marketing of capsules to consumers, Apblett said, adding that he envisaged fewer problems for milk and juice processors and calcium supplement manufacturers.