Smart Sponge to Clean Up Massive Oil Spills in the Ocean

The team of researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois in the U.S. has designed a new ‘smart sponge’ to clean up massive oil spills in the ocean. This new sponge is extremely absorbent and works by selectively soaking up oil, saving both water and wildlife species.

Published in the journal Industrial Engineering and Chemical Research, the study says that the smart sponge can absorb over 30 times its weight in oil and then can be reused up to several times afterward, without losing effectiveness.

There is a chemical coating of nanostructures and a carbon-based substrate that is Oleophilic(which attracts oil), Hydrophobic (resists water), Magnetic (OHM), which allows oil to be removed from water effortlessly. This means that the process can turn any regular, cheap sponge into a smart sponge.

The nanocomposite’s nanoporous three-dimensional structure interacts with and binds to the oil molecules, capturing and storing the oil until it is removed.

Smart Sponge to Clean Up Massive Oil Spills in the Ocean

Smart sponge will clean up oil spills on the oceans | Image: Northwestern University

Vikas Nandwana, a Research Associate at Northwestern University, reveals that the smart sponges will be used as sponge sheets, wrapped into rolls. Without any size limitations, the smart sponges come in a typical width of 2-3 feet.

The most common usage of these sponges will be as ‘sorbent pads’ (absorbent pads used to clean beaches after an oil spill). However, they can also be airdropped in to soak up oil from the sea.

Oil spills have devastating and immediate effects on the environment, human health and economy. Although many spills are small and may not make the evening news, they are still profoundly invasive to the ecosystem and surrounding community…Our sponge can remediate these spills in a more economic, efficient and eco-friendly manner than any of the current state-of-the-art solutions.

said Vinayak Dravid, who led the research.

Given the common incidents of oil spills at sea, this sponge comes as a ray of hope. Recently an oil spill in Russia threatens to pollute the Arctic Ocean, after six million gallons of diesel fuel from a power plant in Norilsk leaked into the Ambarnaya river that flows into the environmentally delicate Arctic Ocean.

The ocean oil spills can spread for hundreds of nautical miles and form a thin coating covering the beaches. Various marine species face the threat of disease and death owing to such incidents. The oil clogs the blowholes of whales and dolphins, which causes difficulty in their breathing, and damages the feathers of birds, which strains their flight.

As per the Water Encyclopedia, oil waste can poison the sensitive marine and coastal organic surfaces, which can deeply interrupt the food chain on which fish and sea creatures depend.

Presently, oil spills on oceans are cleared up by burning the oil, using chemical dispersants to breakdown oil into very small droplets, skimming oil floating on top of the water or absorbing it with expensive, unrecyclable sorbents. Irrespective of their usefulness, these solutions are dangerous for the waters and species residing in them.

Fortunately, the smart sponge provides a sustainable solution to ocean oil spills amid the clumsy times of human history.

Via: Euro News

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