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"Green minerals" could be used to treat polluted waterways

New Zealand is a country known widely for its breathtaking natural beauty, traditional Maori dance the Haka and as the backdrop for Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But it might soon be known for something else, Zeolite.

Zeolite is a super absorbent mineral that is currently used in cat litter, modern sports turf and oil spills. Its open crystal structure provides a large surface area for chemical exchange and absorption and has been adapted by chemists at the Crown Research Centre Scion to become a highly effective binding agent for removing phosphorus and other pollutants from waterways.

Chief Executive of the New Zealand Minerals Industry Association, Doug Gordon, is excited at the possibilities of Zeolite, both commercial and environmental, but frustrated by the lack of Government investment in the mining of the mineral. He said, “You’ve got your alchemists dream, turning muck into gold. To not explore this further is foolish.”

Increased investment in the mining of this “green mineral” could result in the improvement of water quality and help preserve the habitats of endangered species. If the mineral can be effectively drilled into the ground at farms then it can capture the toxic run-off of phosphate and nitrogen, reducing the build up of undesirable algal blooms in the waterways. However, finance is proving to be a stumbling block in achieving this.

Commercial applications could also prove to be fruitful, including the treatment of lakes, irrigation reservoirs and water storage systems in fish nurseries, as well as an absorbent granule for oil spills.

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