Reusable sponge that soaks up oil spills
Author: Jessica Hudson
While oil spills are never good, the next one could have a smaller environmental impact due to the development of a new material, called Oleo Sponge, designed by scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
Previous oil spills, including the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, have wreaked havoc on the the environment, in part because there haven’t been ways to remove the oil from beneath the water’s surface. Oleo Sponge is able to capture up to 90 times its weight in oil from above and below the water.
Made from polyurethane with a treated surface, the Oleo Sponge allows for the oil it absorbs to be recovered, saving money in the long run. The sponge is also reusable, further reducing costs and individual environmental impact.
The sponge wasn’t originally developed for oil spill use. The project team, led by Seth B. Darling, was originally working to create new materials using Sequential Infiltration Synthesis (SIS) without a real end goal in mind. A chance reading of an article about scientists developing solutions for oil spills prompted Darling to try applying SIS to a material to be able to absorb oil. Soon after, the US Coast Guard released a call for oil spill cleanup methods. Darling submitted a proposal that was accepted.
The team hopes to continue improving the sponge’s technology so it can absorb more toxic materials from water, including lead, radionuclide and mercury, in addition to increasing manufacturing of the current material.
While ideally the next oil spill will never happen, having products like the Oleo Sponge available for use will hopefully help limit the environmental harm.
Jessica is an intern from Boston University studying Communication and minoring in Environmental Analysis and Policy.
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