Beams of accelerated electrons, or eBeams, work wonders to improve quality of life in ways that include stemming the spread of invasive insects, breaking down environmental pollutants, sterilizing objects and combating harmful microbes in food and water.
The National Center for Electron Beam Research, NCEBR, within Texas A&M AgriLife Research has renewed its existing agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, to advance research, development and applications of eBeam technology.
The eBeam Center at Texas A&M University has served as an IAEA Collaborating Centre for Electron Beam Technology for Food, Health and Environmental Applications since 2014.
“The NCEBR truly is a center of excellence, developing innovative solutions for food safety and environmental protection and supporting technology transfer into society and commerce,” said Najat Mokhtar, deputy director general and head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, at the signing ceremony held at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna on Sept. 19 to formally launch the Collaborating Centre partnership. “I look forward to deepening the IAEA’s collaboration with such a dynamic partner.”
About the eBeam Center
The eBeam Center houses two commercial-scale, non-radioisotopic linear electron accelerators, which produce eBeams for many applications including food safety, agriculture, environmental protection, medicine and industry.
Moving at close to the speed of light, eBeams can be used directly or converted into X-rays. In either case, materials exposed to the beams or rays receive a precise dosage of energy without significantly increasing temperature, which allows for use on many types of products.
“The vision of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research National Center for Electron Beam Research is to harness the power of accelerated electrons for feeding, cleaning, healing and shaping this world and beyond,” said G. Cliff Lamb, Ph.D., director of AgriLife Research. “Applications for this technology include out-of-this-world uses.”
While the stream of electrons in eBeam applications is gentle on food it is tough on microbes, which is why it is also used to ensure the safety and long storage life of food consumed by astronauts in outer space.
Some eBeam applications
Back on Earth, the NCEBR is authorized to process food commercially. For example, it processes ground meat to ensure that it does not contain bacteria that can cause food poisoning, and it treats imports of fresh fruit and vegetables so that no harmful pests can hitch a ride into the country.
NCEBR showcased some examples at the recent International Food Ionizing Symposium and will highlight more at the Joint FAO/IAEA International Symposium on Food Safety and Control in May 2024.
Increasing food security is a key area where eBeams make a difference, but they can also can speed up natural genetic variability to breed sturdier and more productive crops, deactivate pathogens for livestock vaccines, and neutralize insect pests.
“Food research is only part of this partnership.” said Suresh Pillai, Ph.D., professor and director of the NCEBR. “Environmental uses include developing methods to ensure that wastewater is free of human waste and chemical effluents. It also means researching the destruction of so-called ‘forever chemicals,’ cleaning the industrial legacy of trace synthetic chemicals that persist in soils and the natural environment.”
An ambitious part of the workplan is building a mobile accelerator, or an “eBeam on wheels” that can travel to areas of need, for example, to purify water, he said.
An emerging use of eBeams for a more sustainable future is for industrial upcycling of discarded plastics. Since large-scale production of plastics began 70 years ago, 70% of all plastics produced to date have become trash as opposed to recycling. The transformative power of eBeams can convert unwanted plastic into reusable resources that extend current recycling potential and enable a wider and higher-value reuse, which can help to reduce the overall volume of plastic waste.
In the medical field, sterilizing medical products, including transplant tissues, is another big research priority for the IAEA Collaborating Centre.
The NCEBR plans to install a new high energy eBeam and X-ray facility to complement its existing unit, ensuring support for future research by state-of-the-art eBeam services for many years to come.