Bye bye smelly and toxic drywalls: Nanomaterial can destroy noxious odors

A Kansas State University researcher's FAST-ACT power has found life beyond cleaning chemical spills. Now, the nanomaterial can destroy noxious gases coming from drywalls for good.

Kenneth Klabunde was ahead of his time when he discovered a powder that could destroy a number of toxic chemicals in the early 1990s. The Kansas State University scientist was one of the first to develop nanomaterials capable of destroying toxic chemicals.

This FAST-ACT material was used to combat chemical warfare and was primarily used for military applications back then.

The powder can be sprayed as a fire extinguisher, put into a bottle, or mixed as a liquid. "We did a lot of animal studies to show FAST-ACT wasn't harmful," Klabunde says, as it is made from magnesium and titanium.

It's not surprising that this material is finding other uses, particularly in the household. "Those formulations are now being used in homes to take care of noxious odors," Klabunde says.

During the housing boom, over 90 million pounds of tainted drywall were imported from China. It all starts with the smell of rotten eggs:

Unfortunately it doesn't take much hydrogen sulfide to stink up a room with the smell of rotten eggs, corrode the pipes in the house, and sicken the people breathing the toxic gases.

"When chemical odors come off of the drywall, our product will take those out [of the air] without requiring people to tear out the wall board [to deal with the Chinese drywall problem],' he says. And the powder does this irreversibly — so once the odor is gone, it is destroyed forever.

Used cars and mortuaries could certainly use the odor-quenching material. "It's useful for anyone, including getting rid of your garbage smell," Klabunde says.

The material is detoxifying, deodorizing, and safe to use — all functions that make it a perfect product for an infomercial.

Klabunde didn't originally plan for this powder to be used in the home. Leading up to his discovery in 1993, he was testing reaction rates and products to see how toxins would react with mineral oxides.

Then in 1995, he filed for patents and created the company, NanoScale Corporation. His one employee was also his graduate student. While the company is still private, it has grown to more than 45 workers.

The scientist thinks people could put the powder inside the walls or put it on top of cupboards. "Hydrogen sulfide is a gas and that is the problem. It's analogous to water," he says.

The Chinese mined some minerals that contained strontium sulfide. This chemical got put into drywall cement, but the manufacturers didn't notice. However, when the drywall made its way into American homes, it was exposed to more water vapor.

While there, the drywall chemical slowly reacts to form hydrogen sulfide gas. Not only does it stinks, it is toxic.

Hydrogen sulfur causes pipe damage and corrodes wires in the house. Worse, exposure to the gas can cause respiratory illnesses in humans.

On the upside, hydrogen sulfide reacts with the components of FAST-ACT.

Recently, NanoScale Corporation has integrated the FAST-ACT material with an air cartridge, so the product can destroy drywall chemicals that linger in the air. This reduces people's exposure to fumes by destroying the gas permanently.

The reason why the FAST-ACT material is effective is because of its big surface area. A few tablespoons of the nanocrystalline powder has the surface area of a football field, the chemistry professor reports.

Credit: Trent Schindler, NSF

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