It’s Elemental: Detecting Toxicity in a Controversial Fuel Additive
U.S.-German Team Develops New Analytical Technique
In a collaborative effort funded by NSF's Office of International Science and Engineering, Principal Investigator Dr. David Butcher of Western Carolina University teamed with Dr. Kay Niemax and Dr. Michail Bolshov from the University of Dortmund, Germany, to develop an efficient method for identifying and quantifying the combustion products of MMT.
The team employed the process of "speciation," which is a method of determining how much of each chemical form of a metal is present in a sample. Considerable interest has developed in speciation over the past twenty years because the toxicity and mobility of metals in the environment and its organisms is dependent upon their chemical form. In the case of manganese, different levels of toxicity exist in each of the various manganese compounds.
Most techniques for metal speciation involve the combination of chromatography (the process of separating small quantities of a mixed substance through selective absorption) and an atomic laser spectrometry detector (which uses the spectroscopic processes of atom excitation and emission to analyze and measure samples). The instrumentation is complicated and relatively expensive to use.