Seth Darling and his team of researchers at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois introduced a new material which absorbs 90 times of its own weight in oil or other forms of liquids. The Argonne National Laboratory revealed the new technology as an innovative and realistic solution for massive oil spills.
In the past decade, major oil spills including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case, which left around 630,000 tonnes of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico, severely destroyed marine life and industries relying on a clean water source.
Just six years after the initial Deepwater Horizon oil spill case, a leak from Royal Dutch Shell’s undersea pipeline network spilled yet another 90,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in May of 2016. While the US Coast Guard and Shell claimed to have recovered 76,600 gallons of oil from the body of water and thus will not have any negative impact on the local fishing industry, disturbing footage gathered by Vice told otherwise.
New Method With Newly Discovered Material
The sponge-like material introduced by the Argonne National Laboratory is expected to exponentially increase the efficacy of oil spill recovery. Darling explained that the material which can soak up 90 times of its own weight is composed of polyurethane or polyimide plastics coated with silane molecules.
This unique mixture of molecules and materials allow the sponge hold oil like how paper towels trap water molecules and release oil many times over, allowing it to be reused repetitively. In the paper entitled “Advanced oil sorbents using sequential infiltration synthesis,” the researchers stated:
“Targeting superoleophilic and superhydrophobic chemistries, we demonstrate the propensity of SIS-based modifications in oil spill remediation and demonstrate its efficacy in crude oil sorption in model seawater. We find crude oil sorption on the order of 30 and 90 times the initial foam weight for polyurethane and polyimide, respectively, both with highly favorable reusability.”
After the development of the material, the team of researchers immediately facilitated tests in a real-life situations if the material is suitable and applicable in oil spill recoveries. To test the material, the researchers produced a large amount of the sponge and laid them out inside mesh bags.
From a bridge, researchers then placed the mesh bags containing the sponge-like material into a pool, which had oil laid on top to simulate oil spills in large bodies of water. In the experiment, the researchers observed that the sponge efficiently absorbed excess oil from the water and spit it out once it was taken out of the water.
“Our treated foams did way better than either the untreated foam that we brought or the commercial sorbent. In an ideal world, you would have warehoused collections of this foam sitting near wherever there are offshore operations… or where there’s a lot of shipping traffic, or right on rigs… ready to go when the spill happens.” Darling said in an interview.
If Darling’s material is commercialized and is introduced to both oil corporations and coast guards, immediate recovery and clean up of oil will be made possible, with reduced recovery times and cheaper operations. Checkout the material in action in this video:
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