A group of UGM students succeeded in developing an innovative magnetic carbon composites product that can absorb mercury waste.
The students are M. Rifqi Al-Ghifari (Chemical Engineering 2014), Bagas Ikhsan Pratomo (Chemical Engineering 2014), Charlis Ongkho (Engineering Physics 2015) and M. Ilham Romadon (Accounting 2015). The four students joined a research group, SuperC6, in a research on mining waste.
“We developed a powder-shaped magnetic carbon product that can absorb mercury from wastes in the environment,” explained Rifqi, leader of the SuperC6 research team, to the journalists on Friday (5/25) at the Office of UGM Public Relations.
The formula developed by the UGM students became a new breakthrough in solving the mercury waste problems. The product won the first winner title of the Business Plan Competition 2017 at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences UGM. Moreover, they also passed as the finalist of PGN Innovation, Kalijaga Research & Innovation competition and Economic Fair at UKSW.
The research on mercury waste originated from their concern on the abundance of the waste at mine sites. It was mostly found at gold mines, especially community mining sites that used mercury in the process.
One of the cases occured in gold mining area of Kalirejo village, Kokap, Kulon Progo. Majority of miners use mercury to purify gold from other materials. Meanwhile, the management of mercury waste in mining has not been implemented properly.
“Mercury waste is collected in several pits,” Rifqi informed.
In the first pit, mercury waste from mining is collected and cooled down for a while. After that, the water in the pit is flowed to the second pit and cooled down before the waste is disposed into the environment.
“Even so, the precipitation does not reduce the mercury level in wastes,” he said.
Considering the danger of mercury waste, they tried to find a solution to environmental pollution caused by mercury. The students then tried to invent a product that can handle harmful substances in the environment, including mercury wastes at gold mining areas.
They conducted a research by sampling the waste water from gold mining area of Kalirejo, Kulon Progo. The experiment of applying magnetic carbon material to waste water showed that mercury was optimally binded.
“The result showed that the product can bind mercury up to 0,01 mg Hg per gram of activated carbon,” he stated.
The innovation of mercury binding product was developed using low-cost materials and easily accessible to the community. They utilized teak wood waste from the furniture industry that is not widely used.
Bagas admitted they had to conduct numerous experiments in the making of activated carbon. After trials and errors, they finally achieved the activated carbon they wanted.
Some previous studies showed that carbon is a compound with the ability to bind mercury. However, Bagas explained that activated carbon is easily dispersed when applied, so a re-collection process was required after each use in the waste management using the centrifugation method. Unfortunately, the process requires a huge cost.
They thought of a cheap way to re-collect activated carbon that has been used to bind mercury. Eventually, they came up with the idea to add magnetite (F23O4) into the activated carbon to create magnetic properties to the material as a solution to the problem.
“Combining the magnets simplifies the re-collection of activated carbon after each use. The magnetic carbon composites can be used to bind mercury waste up to three applications.”
In the meantime, the SuperC6 research team continues to conduct further research to develop and patent the product. Furthermore, they are actively looking for investors and cooperating with partners.
“We are currently developing the product and thinking of future plans for mass production,” added Ongkho and Ilham.