University of Cincinnati chemical engineering associate professor Peter Smirniotis will be heading to Siberia later this year to team up with Russian scientists trying to find a safer way to degrade toxic chemical weapons. The international collaboration just received a $270,000, three-year grant to support the research through NATO's new Science for Peace Programme.
Smirniotis was one of only three U.S. researchers funded under the program. It was designed to bring scientists and engineers from NATO countries together with researchers in countries like Russia which need help on industrial, environmental, or security-related problems.
"This will have tremendous benefit from an environmental point of view, because it will minimize the release of toxic species to the environment," said Smirniotis.
The UC team will work with Professor Eugenii Savinov and others at the Boreskov Institute in Siberia. Over the next three years, they will develop and test zeolite catalysts for their potential in degrading compounds which resemble chemical warfare agents.
Smirniotis emphasized that the researchers on the NATO project will not be working with actual chemical weapons. Instead, they will use "simulants," chemical compounds which react in a similar manner but are not as dangerous as the actual chemical weapons.
According to previous reports, it is estimated that the U.S. has 25,000 tons of chemical warfare agents, and Russia has about 40,000 tons. If the project is successful, Smirniotis said it will go a long way toward helping demilitarize the U.S. and Russia. However, his greatest hope is seeing the technology used worldwide. "If Saddam and Iraq want to use this, go head," said Smirniotis.
The next steps for Smirniotis will be to visit his collaborators in Russia and develop a research plan to be presented at NATO headquarters in Brussels this fall. Once approved, the actual research is expected to begin early in the year 2000. NATO also hopes the research will lead to a marketable product which can help Russia boost its economy in an environmentally sound manner.