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Scientists advance oil spill remediation

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• Cotton, smart sponge absorb 90 times weight in crude oil, can be reused hundreds of times

Scientists have made major progress in efforts to effectively cleanup the environment following oil spills in producing areas such as the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria.

They have also improved an important catalytic reaction commonly used in the oil and gas industries, which could lead to dramatic energy savings and reduced pollution.

The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) at Texas Tech University, United States (U.S.), has found that finer raw cotton in loose form performs best for absorbing oil.

The study was published in the March/April 2017 issue of the Journal of by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC).
Also, an amazing sponge that can soak up and release more oil than ever before offers new hope for cleaning up toxic sites. And unlike current commercial products, which can only be used once, this new sponge can be used again and again.

According to the study published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, the new material made from polyurethane and polyimide can soak up 90 times weight in oil and then can be used again and again.

Seth Darling and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, United States, created a sponge made of foam from polyurethane or polyimide plastics. It is coated with ‘oil-loving’ silane molecules, which are very good at soaking up oil.

In laboratory tests researchers found the sponge could repeatedly soak up between 30 and 90 times its weight in oil. According to New Scientist, currently, products used to soak up oil, called ‘sorbents’, can only be used once and are then are normally incinerated.

To be useful in combating oil spills, sorbents need to be both oleophilic (oil-attracting) and hydrophobic (water-repellent). However, this new material can be reused again and again, meaning it is more environmentally friendly as well as more effective than any other commercial products.

According to the Journal of Materials Chemistry A study, current methods of cleaning up oil are “only partially effective and carry their own ecological impacts. An enticing alternative strategy involves oil sorbents capable of efficient extraction of oil from water bodies, which in turn necessitates the design and implementation of novel materials.”

The research team tested the material in a special pool designed for practicing emergency responses to oil spills. They made square pads measuring around six square metres.

Also, a Washington State University, United States, research team has improved an important catalytic reaction commonly used in the oil and gas industries. The innovation could lead to dramatic energy savings and reduced pollution. They report on their work in the German journal Angewandte Chemie, which has designated the paper of particular interest and importance. The research is led by Jean-Sabin McEwen, assistant professor, and Su Ha, associate professor, of the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at WSU.

Methane gas is a byproduct in much of the oil and gas industry, where it may build up during operations and cause a safety concern. Methane also is a primary ingredient in natural gas used to heat homes, and it can be converted into many useful products including electricity. But breaking the strong bond between its carbon and hydrogen takes a tremendous amount of energy.

Lead author of the Journal of by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists study and a professor in the institute’s Nonwovens & Advanced Materials Laboratory, where the research was conducted, Seshadri Ramkumar, said: “The oil spill issue has become a global issue, as it affects human health and environment.



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