The College of Engineering at Colorado State University today announced it received patent and grant gifts from DuPont that support the development and commercialization of an innovative process to clean contaminated soils. The technology holds the promise of being far more effective and much less expensive than current options for cleanup of such hazardous waste areas as Superfund national priority list sites, Department of Defense facilities, agricultural storage facilities, chemical plants, automotive maintenance facilities, dry cleaners and other sites contaminated with chlorinated solvents.
"The generous gift from DuPont provides the university a remarkable opportunity to address a critical national need that will greatly benefit society while also allowing outstanding opportunities for student education and leading-edge environmental research," said Anthony Frank, vice president for research and information technology at Colorado State. "We are truly appreciative of the generosity and support of DuPont."
The DuPont gift, awarded to Colorado State due to the university’s world-renowned expertise in hazardous substance, remediation and groundwater research, has the potential to generate millions of dollars in licensing revenue for the university. These funds would be used to support further research relating to remediation and to advance other educational opportunities at Colorado State.
"We appreciate the confidence of DuPont in our ability to optimally develop this innovative technology as well as the university’s capability to effectively commercialize and market the process," said Neal Gallagher, dean of the College of Engineering. "This is an outstanding example of an industry-academic collaboration that will have direct benefits to communities throughout the United States and the world."
The cornerstone of the gift is two patents that cover a process to remediate hazardous areas by mixing contaminated soils with degradative and stabilizing agents. Unlike current remediation efforts, the new process eliminates a costly step by not requiring contaminated soils to be excavated from polluted sites. DuPont also made a financial donation to the university to support further technical advancements and maintenance of the patents.
"We are pleased to provide Colorado State University with this intellectual property," said Robert Hirsch, director of DuPont Intellectual Assets. "When development on a DuPont technology is discontinued due to a shift in business strategy, we have found that a very productive use for that embryonic technology is to donate that technology to a non-profit organization, like Colorado State. This process puts the technology in the hands of competent researchers where the development work can be continued."
Colorado State, led by Tom Sale, Charles Shackelford and Dave Gilbert in the Department of Civil Engineering, will conduct laboratory and field research in an effort to optimize the technology’s effectiveness and minimize its cost. The Colorado State University Research Foundation’s (CSURF) Technology Transfer Office, led by Arundeep Pradhan, will collaborate with the engineering team to market and license the technology to industry.
"The generous donation of this patented technology from DuPont will greatly benefit Colorado State’s ongoing contaminant hydrology and geoenvironmental programs," said Sale. "We see this as both the reward and next step in our partnering with industry to solve environmental problems and train tomorrow’s environmental engineers and scientists."
The donated process patent by DuPont to help remediate hazardous waste sites is twofold. First, by mixing the contaminated soil with degrading and stabilizing agents, the process reduces the permeability of the soil that, in turn, prevents pollutants from penetrating deep into the ground or the groundwater table. Second, the process causes a chemical reaction that converts the toxic chemicals to non-toxic compounds.
Colorado State engineers will begin their work by initiating laboratory studies to address the potential to use the technology for other target pollutants such as pesticide-contaminated soils and mining sites. They also will conduct studies focusing on the appropriate mixtures of degrading and stabilizing agents for specific soil types. In coordination with these efforts, Colorado State researchers will conduct tests and review results from relevant laboratory and field investigations that already have been conducted by DuPont.
Colorado State is approaching potential end users of the technology to identify any other potential concerns. Once this is complete, a master implementation plan will be created for licensing of the technology. A business model is being developed by CSURF to target potential users of the technology. The group could issue commercial use of the technology as early as summer 2004.
Soil and groundwater pollution is a worldwide problem associated with government and industrial sites where mishandling or improper disposal of chemicals brings a variety of pollutants in contact with the soil. Once in the ground, chemicals gradually penetrate further into the soil and the water table and often spread the contaminants well beyond the source zone. This migration of pollutants can potentially contaminate drinking water and lead to serious health hazards. Many of these chemicals cannot be entirely removed by standard water treatment processes.
A 1997 National Research Council report stated the total cost of cleaning up the 300,000 to 400,000 contaminated sites could reach $500 billion to $1 trillion. Colorado State is striving to develop industry-university partnerships with organizations such as DuPont in a commitment to find and commercialize innovative, cost-effective solutions to these problems.