Green rust could be used to eradicate toxic and radioactive elements from the environment, according to a Newcastle University report.
An international team of scientists conducted a study on green rust in Lake Matano, Indonesia. They have found that green rust - a highly reactive iron mineral - could be used to clean up metal pollution and even radioactive waste.
The study also revealed that green rust played a major role in the creation of our early atmosphere.
During the Precambrian period, scientists found that green rust scavenged on heavy metals such as nickel. Nickel availability is linked to production of methane by anaerobic organisms, which is a major sink for oxygen produced during photosynthesis, and thus green rust played a crucial role in the oxygenation of the earth's atmosphere.
"Because it is so reactive, green rust has hardly ever been found before in nature and never in a water system like this," said Professor Simon Poulton, scientist at the Newcastle University, in a statement. "The discovery of green rust in Lake Matano, Indonesia, where we carried out our experiments shows for the first time what a key role it played in our ancient oceans - scavenging dissolved nickel, a key micronutrient for methanogenesis."
The high reactivity of green rust is the reason it could be used in cleaning up polluted sites. The rust reduces elements like chromium, uranium and selenium, significantly reducing their solubility and mobility in the environment, and in some cases absorbing them into the rust's molecular structure.
"We still know relatively little about green rust but our research shows that it is likely to be much more prevalent in the environment than has previously been recognised and the role it plays in cycling elements such as nickel and other metals is significant," said Dr Sean Crowe, scientist at the University of Southern Denmark, in a statement.
"Understanding the important role it played in our past and its effectiveness at removing metals from the environment will help us to understand how we might be able to use it to clean up polluted land and water in the future," Dr Crowe concluded.