Developments to Watch
A STEP TOWARD LESS MERCURY IN THE ENVIRONMENT
Researchers at Quebec's government-owned electric company, Hydro-Qu bec, have found a way to avoid using toxic mercury in the production of textile dyes and chemicals for paper production. The researchers say preliminary experiments show the same method could be used to make compounds for synthetic vitamin K, pesticides, perfumes, sunscreen, and plant-growth regulators. This spring, Hydro-Qu bec licensed the technology to a unit of Taiwan's Taysung Enterprises Co., a dye maker.
According to Stephen Harrison, leader of the Organic Electrosynthesis project at Hydro-Qu bec's LTEE lab, the keys to the process are electricity and the rare-earth element cerium. An oxidized compound including cerium steals electrons from a naphthalene derivative. The destabilized naphthalene derivative then reacts with water to form a new compound that's a precursor to a wide range of valuable chemicals. The cerium compound returns to an electrochemical cell, where an electrical charge strips it of electrons, allowing the process to start over again. Harrison says the process became feasible with the development of highly efficient electrochemical cells.EDITED BY RUTH COXETER