A new material that can absorb up to 90 times its own weight has the potential to replace sorbents to clean-up oil spill sites.
A new material created by Seth Darling and his colleagues at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, provides the opportunity for oil to be recovered and the sorbent to be reused. Sorbents can generally be used only once, acting like a paper towel that mops up a mess and then tossed in the bin.
According to a report by the New Scientist, the oil sponge is a simple foam made from polyurethane or polyimide plastics and coated with the “oil loving” silane molecules that enable the sponge to absorb the oil.
Laboratory tests have proven that when engineered with the right amount of silane, the sponge can repeatedly soak up and release oil with no significant change in capacity.
A large-scale test was later conducted at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility in Leonardo, New Jersey.
“Our treated foams did way better than either the untreated foam that we brought or the commercial sorbent,” says Darling.
However the team does not know whether the material can perform at the same levels under the high pressures of the deep sea.
“In an ideal world, you would have warehoused collections of this foam sitting near wherever there are offshore operation … or where there’s a lot of shipping traffic, or right on rigs … ready to go when the spill happens.”
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