Oil spills are an impending doom at our doorstep. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, researchers have embarked on a search into novel methods for damage containment. The latest development in this field came from Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Its creators claim it is highly efficient in its adsorption (which is different than absorption) capacity and also reusable.
Researchers utilized a polymer called 6FDA-TrMPD as their starting point as the material is highly porous in nature. The researchers took a liquid solution and drew it through an electric field with a syringe in a method known as electrospinning.
Through this process, the team was able to obtain a highly-porous, yet sturdy mat. 0.04 oz of this material has a 6,100 square feet surface area (567 sq mt for around 1 gram). Researchers also added hydrophobic (water-repellent) trifluoromethyl group molecules, which also help with adsorbing oil.
During lab testing, the team discovered that they could adsorb about 0.88 oz (25 grams) of oil per 0.04 oz (1 gram) of material deployed. The team notes that this makes this particular mat more efficient than many of its similes let aside the fact that it's reusable.
Fuat Topuz, an author of the study notes, “The sorption performance of the material is much better than many reported adsorbents, and the materials could be recycled and reused with similar performance, demonstrating their great potential for cleanup of oil spills and nonpolar solvents."
The researchers are now looking into sustainably sourced polymers that can be purposed this way, and optimizing different builds for different pollutants (i.e. heavy metals). Another author Gyorgy Szekely adds “In our next step, we will process these materials further to create membranes and fibrous sponges to make easily recoverable adsorbents while preserving their high performance.”