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Earth Science

Sponge-Like "Swelling Glass" Absorbs Toxins in Water 93

MikeChino writes "A company called Absorbent Materials has created a new kind of 'swelling glass' that can clean up contaminated groundwater by soaking up volatile molecules like a sponge. Dubbed 'Obsorb,' the material can hold up to 8 times its weight in fuel, oil, and solvents without sucking up any of the water itself. Once the material is full it floats to the surface and the pollutants can be skimmed off."
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Sponge-Like "Swelling Glass" Absorbs Toxins in Water

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  • Was that just a short press release with some random unrelated photos, or did I completely miss the boat on this one?
  • Does it all magically disappear?

    • What?

      Once the material is full it floats to the surface and the pollutants can be skimmed off.

      Last sentence of the summary...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tonycheese ( 921278 )

        Well, it seems someone below you has posted a similar question, so it isn't as stupid as I thought.
        The website link says (there are only 3 or 4 sentences there...):

        ...can be skimmed off. Afterwards, it can be dropped back into the water and reused hundreds of times.

        So the idea is you use it to make contaminated groundwater drinkable, then suck out the concentrated toxins and dispose of it in a better place than drinking water.

        • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:21PM (#30730666)

          Nah, it was stupid. It's just that I wasn't the only stupid person here.

        • "Once full, Obsorb floats to the surface, where it can be skimmed off with something as simple as a coffee filter. After that the pollutants can be retrieved and the glass can be reused hundreds of time. Nanoparticles of iron can also be added to convert TCE or PCE (another volatile organic compound) into harmless substances. As a low cost form of cleanup, swelling glass could provide site remediators with yet another in the growing list of non-conventional cleanup tools along with lactate, vitamin B-12,
    • No, but it's better if it's in a landfill than a beach..
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by n3tcat ( 664243 )

      Does it all magically disappear?

      TFA says you can skim the gunk off, then throw it back into the water to do it's work again, "hundreds of times".

      • But where does the actual harmful gunk *go*?

        How is it sequestered? Is it chemically neutralized, stored in vaults? Burned? And what problems do any of these solutions cause?

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @06:55PM (#30730360)

    A material wich can absorb all the toxens out of the water and when it is full all we need to do is grind it back into little pieces and flush it down the toilet and all our problems are solve.

    • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:02PM (#30730456) Homepage Journal

      >>A material wich can absorb all the toxens out of the water and when it is full all we need to do is grind it back into little pieces and flush it down the toilet and all our problems are solve.

      Narrator: Thus solving the problem for all time

      Suzy: But...

      Narrator: FOR ALL TIME.

      Actually, my problem with this is the trade name. OBSORB sounds like OXYCLEAN or the SHAMWOW or all the other staples of late night TV.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Warhawke ( 1312723 )

        All very amusing political humor and shamwow references aside, it's a rare occasion where I can read a slashdot article and go "Wow, Cool!"

        Neat and important creative advances like this pus back into me a little bit of the faith in humanity eroded by most of slashdot articles.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Wayne247 ( 183933 )

        "Global Warming Or: None Like It Hot!"

        Narrator: Of course, since the greenhouse gases are still building up, it takes more and more ice each time. Thus solving the problem once and for all.
        Suzie: But--
        Narrator: Once and for all!

        "The End".

  • Spelling? (Score:5, Informative)

    by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @06:56PM (#30730390)
    TFA refers to the material as Obsorb, but a linked page [absmaterials.com] refers to it as Osorb.

    So which is it?
  • I didn't see anything in the article that tells exactly how the science behind it works. Is it granulated particles? Normal sponge sized? Fiberglass like? How are the toxins removed from the material after use? etc. I assume some of it they might not be able to divulge due to pending patents or whatever, but a little more info might help to determine if it's viable or just vaporware.

    • I'm also curious show this stuff can absorb the pollution out of the water instead of just filling up with water.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by idontgno ( 624372 )

        It might fill up with water. If that happens, then clearly the water was the contaminant.

        Now you have considerably purified your water slick, leaving only pure environmentally-friendly petroleum in your bays. Think of how happy* the salmon, the seabirds, and the plankton will be!

        *Claim void if it turns out that ocean life live in water, not petroleum. You mileage may vary.

        • Thanks for the clarification. I figured there was some perfectly reasonable explanation I was missing.

          Fish oil is supposed to be really healthy stuff, this sounds like it could make my sashimi even better for me. Can't wait!

    • Let us hope it is not vaporware. I am not sure all those toxins in a gaseous form would be very safe.
  • Shamwow (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 11, 2010 @06:59PM (#30730430)
    Holds up to 20 TIMES its weight in fuel, oil, and solvents. Doesn't drip, doesn't make a mess. Contaminated antarctic penguins use it as a towel.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BlindSpot ( 512363 )

      That was my first thought until I read more closely... this thing purportedly won't absorb the water, only the contaminants within. So, unlike ShamWow, you could put a load of this material in a lake without soaking up the entire lake.

  • It sounds like an excellent solution, and depending on what else is in the compound besides glass (is it a process thing or does it depend on exotic chemistry?) it could be a quite a breakthrough. The summary implies it could be used for cleaning oil spills - if it can be made in bulk, but it also could be very useful in cartridge filters. Innovations like this can change the world for the better, in small increments. Good tech adds up.
    • by knarfling ( 735361 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:25PM (#30730716) Journal
      Cost is an excellent question, since there is already a product that does something similar that has been around since at least 2007.
      PRP (Petroleum Remediation Product) is made from beeswax and soaks up oils as well. Since it is so light, it floats on water and only absorbs the oils. The bee's wax encourages naturally occurring micro-organisms to eat. The microbes feast on the bee's wax and don't stop eating until all the oil is gone, safely, naturally bio-degrading the petroleum and the PRP itself.
      I understand that they mix ground up corncobs into the PRP to make a version that works without water and can bio-degrade oil on land.

      I can see only three reasons for the glass version.
      1. If it is cheaper to make
      2. Since you clean it rather than let it decompose, it is reusable. But the costs of making and cleaning still have to be cheaper than the cost of PRP.
      3. If the glass version will absorb chemicals that cannot be degraded by the micro-organisms that feed on the beeswax.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        This seems to be based on atomic iron in some form of nanoscale dust. As a result, its application seems to be much wider than just absorbing hydrocarbons. As an example, there are a few papers that studied the decomposition of atrazine in the presence of nanoZVI. Apparently,it's pretty successful.

      • by D Ninja ( 825055 )

        Reason 4 - You recover whatever it is that you're cleaning up from the glass. This is particularly useful for oil spills if you think about how much oil is wasted in a decent sized oil spill. (And, I'm sure oil companies do not want to let all that profit go to waste.)

      • by hawkfish ( 8978 )

        1. If it is cheaper to make.

        Last time I checked, there was a lot more silica in the world than bees. Plus the silica is not being devastated by disease...

  • Yes but... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Dishwasha ( 125561 )

    has it been taste tested by a Nibblonian [wikipedia.org]?

  • Floats to the surface and skim the contaminants off the top??? Quite the trick if it absorbs some sort of heavy metals. Exactly how does it not drip yet you skim the material off the top. Who get's to squeeze the contaminants out?
  • Sponge-like Bobsorb Swelling Glass
  • To hell with the robots coming down on us. Isn't this the way "The Blob" was created?
  • Given that groundwater is not just freestanding water like a pool, what's the prevent this large piece of material from getting stuck on the dirt around it rather than floating to the top to be skimmed.
    • by Tanman ( 90298 )

      If it can hold onto the contaminant, isn't that still better than the alternative?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mosb1000 ( 710161 )
      I would assume that this would be used in an above-ground treatment plant, given that water wells can be a thousand feet deep, but only a couple inches wide. This process is generally refereed to as "pump and treat", because you pump the water out of the ground, treat it and discharge to some surface body or use it for another application. As you draw down the water table, it causes the surrounding water to be drawn into the system as well, this prevents the contaminated groundwater from migrating down-gr
  • Either this thing is the bee's knees and will make a huge impact, or it's some mix of snake oil and too expensive. As usual, we're safest assuming the latter until we at least have details.

  • Watch out, everything becomes glass!
  • by TheHawke ( 237817 ) <rchapin.stx@rr@com> on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:33PM (#30730816)

    Glass - Silica.

    Silica Gel - absorbent glass.

    Easy, huh?

    • Astute correlation to silica. However, silica gel adsorbs water which is why it is used in those little desiccant packets to keep stuff dry. This material allegedly does not.
    • I've been thinking a lot about several varieties of aerogel products lately. Aerogel is 95% air and is hydrophobic, yet will absorb light oils. To the extent that it can de-homogenize oil and water suspensions, it would be useful as a separating agent. Oil-saturated aerogel should be lighter than water and rise to the top. This would also facilitate centrifugal separation of oil-laden mud. The oils can then be removed from the aerogel with moderate heat. Then you get to recycle both the aerogel and the
    • > Easy, huh?

      Yes. Wrong, but easy. Soda-lime glass, the kind you are probably thinking of, has more in it than silica. But these guys are chemists. To a chemist "glass" is a term for a large class of materials, some containing no silica at all.

  • So, it removes stuff that would've just evaporated off pretty quickly anyway? yipee.

  • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <nicoaltiva@nospam.gmail.com> on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:11PM (#30732308) Journal

    They may be "toxic" but they are not "toxins". Example of toxin: Botox(TM), which stands for botulic toxin. A toxin is a toxic substance created by an organism.

  • So basically what you're saying is that we can build small scale models of stuff, pee on them for a few days, and they'll turn into the real deal. Kinda like those little dinosaur toys that you put in water and they grow to fill the glass. I'm down with that.

  • groundwater |groundwôtr; -wätr| noun water held underground in the soil or in pores and crevices in rock. Me thinks this is a bogus article about a bogus "invention" by a bogus company. Water ON the ground is sometimes called "a flood", and sometimes called "a lake", depending upon whether or not the condition is chronic.
    • Having just committed the ultimate /. sin, I read the company info after posting. TFA erroneously combined the properties of two different products from the company with similar names. The product that is used on groundwater is intended only to grab and hold harmless the bad stuff, not for removing it from the ground.
  • So when you put this in water, it creates distilled water?

    Good luck keeping the fish and plants alive with that stuff...

  • A lucrative use? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    2 words: Biodiesel Harvesting

  • Does alcohol count as 'volatile molecules'?
    I can see some applications for this as a way of making better moonshine.

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll