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New sulfur dioxide conversion method may transform current industrial techniques

A single-step, plasma-enhanced catalytic process to convert sulfur dioxide to pure sulfur from tail gas streams may provide a promising, more environmentally-friendly alternative to current multistage thermal, catalytic and absorptive processes, according to scientists at Penn State.

"Sulfur dioxides can cause significant environmental problems like acid rain, and it can cause sea acidification," said Xiaoxing Wang, associate research professor at the Penn State EMS Energy Institute. "Sulfur can also contribute to fine particulate matter in the air we breathe, which can be more severe than the sulfur dioxide itself."

Exposure to particulate matter was estimated to cause 4.2 million premature deaths and more than 100 million disability-adjusted life years—which measures years lost due to illness, disability or death—according to the Lancet Global Burden of Diseases Study, published in 2015.

According to Wang, current desulfurization methods can successfully remove sulfur dioxide from tail gas streams but not without significant drawbacks.

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