‘Supergel’ System Cleans Radioactively Contaminated Structures (ANL-IN-03-032)
Argonne’s Supergel system safely captures and disposes of radioactive elements in porous structures, like monuments and buildings. Consisting of a spray-on, super-absorbent gel and engineered nanoparticles, this unique technology enables the United States to be better prepared in the event of an attack using a “dirty bomb” or other radioactive dispersal device.
The super-absorbent gel can be removed by using a standard wet/dry vacuum with a squeegee attachment, purchased at a home supply store. After vacuuming, the concrete surface is wet but contains none of the gel material.
Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have developed a system that can remove radioactive cesium contamination from porous structures, such as brick and concrete, which are notoriously hard to clean, as well as contamination from metal surfaces.
The “Supergel” system focuses on rapid response—capturing as much of the contamination as possible, as quickly as possible, and filling a technology gap immediately.Description
The system consists of engineered nanoparticles and a super-absorbent polymer gel, which work together to clean buildings and monuments exposed to radioactive materials. The polymer “Supergel” that absorbs the radioactivity is similar to the absorbent material found in disposable diapers. When exposed to a wetting agent, the polymers form a kind of structural “scaffold” that allows the gel to absorb great amounts of liquid.
The amount of contamination removed depends on the characteristics of the contaminated structure—its age, type of material, whether painted or unpainted—and the radioactive isotope involved. Removal rates have ranged from roughly 80 to nearly 100 percent.
Operating much like an automatic car wash, the Supergel system follows a simple, three-step process:
- Application: Remote spray washers apply a wetting agent and a super-absorbent gel onto the contaminated surface.
- Reaction: The wetting agent causes the bound radioactivity to re-suspend in the pores. The super-absorbent polymer gel suctions the radioactivity out of the pores and it becomes fixed in the engineered nanoparticles that sit in the gel.
- Cleanup: The gel is vacuumed and dehydrated, with only a small amount of radioactive waste remaining for disposal.
A key benefit of the Supergel technology is that it leaves structures intact. Until now, no effective technique existed to remove radioactive contamination. Contaminated objects were typically demolished since they could not be cleaned. Because Argonne’s “Supergel” system preserves surfaces, monuments and buildings are not defaced during radiation removal.Applications and Industries
The system, which consists of a spray-on, super-absorbent gel and engineered nanoparticles, is expected to help the United States be more prepared in the event of a terrorist attack with a “dirty bomb” or other radioactive dispersal device.
- The Supergel technology can be used to:
- Reduce radiation levels to allow resumption of emergency operations
- Decontaminate structures for unrestricted access
- Collect radioactive contamination samples for nuclear forensics
- Convert liquid radioactive waste to stabilized solids suitable for direct disposal
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funded the Supergel project under the auspices of the interagency Technical Support Working Group (TSWG). TSWG is the U.S. national forum that identifies, prioritizes and coordinates interagency and international research and development requirements for combating terrorism. The TSWG rapidly develops technologies and equipment to meet the high-priority needs of the terrorism-combating community and addresses joint international operational requirements through cooperative R&D with major allies.Technology Status
|Technology ID||Development Stage||Availability||Published||Last Updated|
|ANL-IN-03-032, ANL-IN-11-123||Prototype - Researchers have completed pilot-scale testing at an independent testing facility funded by the U.S. EPA and are seeking partners to engage in larger-scale hot testing.||Available - The technology is covered by three patents and Argonne is seeking a licensee.||02/07/2012||02/07/2012|