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Science Technology

New Sponge Can Soak Up and Release Spilled Oil Hundreds of Times (newscientist.com) 53

Seth Darling and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois have created a new material that can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in spilled oil and then be squeezed out like a sponge and reused. This is compared to most commercial products used for soaking up oil, called "sorbents," which act like a paper towel and are only good for a single use. Once the sorbents are used, they get incinerated along with the oil. New Scientist reports: The oil sponge consists of a simple foam made of polyurethane or polyimide plastics and coated with "oil-loving" silane molecules with a sweet spot for capturing oil. Too little chemical attraction would render the sponge useless as an absorber, whereas too much would mean the oil could not be released. In laboratory tests, the researchers found that when engineered with just the right amount of silane, their foam could repeatedly soak up and release oil with no significant changes in capacity. But to determine whether this material could help sort out a big spill in marine waters, they needed to perform a special large-scale test. To do this, the team made an array of square pads of the sponge material measuring around 6 square meters. "We made a lot of the foam, and then these pieces of foam were placed inside mesh bags -- basically laundry bags, with sewn channels to house the foam," Darling says. The researchers suspended their sponge-filled bags from a bridge over a large pool specially designed for practicing emergency responses to oil spills. They then dragged the sponges behind a pipe spewing crude oil to test the material's capability to remove oil from the water. They next sent the sponges through a wringer to remove the oil and then repeated the process, carrying out many tests over multiple days. This so-far unpublished test was conducted in early December at the National Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility in Leonardo, New Jersey. Here's a video showing the sponge in action.
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New Sponge Can Soak Up and Release Spilled Oil Hundreds of Times

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  • What about hair? (Score:5, Informative)

    by thoughtlover ( 83833 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2017 @06:18AM (#53991157)

    Years ago I read about someone who stuffed hair (collected from barbers/stylists) into a mesh-like tube that soaked up oil as it floated along the surface of the water... cheap and reusable.

  • Why bother (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This is slashdot. Oil spills are no big deal. Human effect on the environment is negligible. That oil would have leaked out naturally anyway. Thank you.
    • by ghoul ( 157158 )

      Are you saying Humans are not part of the environment? Did we come from space or another dimension? Any human action is natural. Polluting the air with NOX is just as natural as a Lion killing a deer. Whether its desirable is another thing but I find it irritating when people try to say save nature and fuck the humans - Humans are nature.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    for the TRUMP energy policies.

  • Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2017 @07:23AM (#53991301)

    A product where we can reuse the precious oil instead of having to consider it lost.

    Yes, I'm dead serious. This is maybe what would make oil companies interested in cleaning up their mess. What's in it for them if they can't use the oil anymore after cleaning up the spill? But if they can still use the oil, their motivation to clean up rises.

  • another version (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kqc7011 ( 525426 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2017 @08:09AM (#53991395)
    Will this work like a oleophilic belt skimmer? Which do a pretty good job for a very reasonable price. And you can set a skimmer to work continuously. Days, week's or months they just keep rotating and removing the oil. There are always uses for different types of oil recovery and this sponge will have its place.
    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      One presumes that it won't. The summary claims that this is a new thing, reusable sponges like this haven't existed before, so this would have to differ in some respect from an existing product. Do those belts function via a coating, perhaps? One which maybe wears off over time, or contaminates the oil or something?

      I'd hate to think that this wasn't the revolutionary product that the article is claiming. Surely we would never be mislead by the internet.
      • by kqc7011 ( 525426 )
        The belts are generally a flexible plastic with a coating of the oleophilic material, sometime a large rotating drum is used. Skimmers are made small enough to fit into a barrel bung hole, up to fairly large vessels (bigger boats). If you want to see how they work there are lots of videos out there of both small and large skimmers.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is very cool, and I hope it can enter production soon. That said, how well does it work on other materials? i.e. if an oil spill has already made it to land, can these be used to clean up beaches? What about other flotsam that may be in the area of a spill?

    No matter what, it appears to be better than anything else at the moment, but I'd be interested in how it does outside of a pristine environment.

  • Sick of oily, pimply skin? Well thanks to, of all places, New Jersey, there's a solution! This foam, in makeup-sponge sizes.
  • I don't buy any kind of uber fancy paper towels from the store but I can certainly wring them out and reuse them when I am wiping up a big spill in the kitchen or near the table.

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