New Heaven New Earth newsletter reported on an Associated Press article by Christopher Wills.
Waste from corn could become a cheap, effective tool for cleaning up polluted water, says Jacob Lehrfeld, a chemist at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria. The substance absorbs not only lead and other toxic materials but also chemicals, such as the weed killer atrazine. Current anti-pollution agents can't do both. "It's basically a 'two-fer' -- you get rid of a waste material and also you're utilizing a corn product that currently is not being utilized," says Lehrfeld.
Steven Eckhoff, a professor of agricultural engineering at the University of Illinois welcomed the news: "I'm excited. It would ultimately lead value back to the farmer because it makes the whole corn-milling industry more viable." When corn is milled to create cornstarch, a common byproduct is "corn steep liquor" -- a brown, syrupy liquid. Another leftover is corn bran. Those leftovers are generally turned into a cheap livestock feed. But corn steep liquor contains something called phytic acid. Lehrfeld mixes that acid with the corn bran and heats the mix in a slight vacuum. The result is a black, powdery resin that absorbs pollutants in water. When the resin and pollutants are removed, clean water is left behind.
Lehrfeld envisions his product being used at factories that must clean their water before releasing it. It also could be used in municipal water-treatment systems. Lehrfeld said the resin absorbs roughly the same amount of toxins as the petroleum-based products that now are used for such purposes which cost anywhere from $1.50 to $12 a pound -- a corn-based version would cost roughly $8 a pound, and the price should drop quickly once production becomes commonplace. Currently corn-millers are only getting about 3.5 cents a pound for feed.