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WWU scientists' new goo cleans up

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It may look like black, brittle, freeze-dried ice cream, but a new material developed with the help of WWU researchers is a pollution-cleaning workhorse.

The lightweight, porous material called cobaltmolybdenum-sulfur chalcogel, seen here in this electron micrograph, can pull sulfur out of crude oil two times better than the catalyst thought to be the best available, according to research by scientists at WWU and Northwestern University published this spring in the scientific journal Nature Chemistry.

WWU graduate student Amy F. Gaudette (’07 and ‘09) tested the new chalcogel to see how well it removes sulfur from crude oil. Finding better ways to get sulfur out of petroleum-based fuel is an important step in utilizing fuels such as gasoline more efficiently while producing fewer harmful emissions. Gaudette’s adviser, Chemistry Professor Mark Bussell, studies hydrodesulferization, the chemical process refineries use to remove sulfur from petroleum products.

The cobalt-molybdenum-sulfur chalcogel is also better than any other known material at removing mercury from polluted water, thanks in part to its very high surface area. One cubic centimeter of the stuff has a surface area of 10,000 square feet, about half the size of a football field, providing lots of space for the polluting molecules to stick to.