Scientists from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new kind of foam, known as Oleo Sponge, designed to help clean up oil and diesel spills in water.
The reusable material has the ability to quickly adsorb oil from water and can pull dispersed oil from the entire water column.
Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials scientist Seth Darling said: “The Oleo Sponge offers a set of possibilities that, as far as we know, are unprecedented.”
As part of the research, the scientists used common polyurethane foam, which is used in furniture cushions.
The team used a nanotechnology technique previously developed at Argonne to infuse a hard layer of "primer" near the foam’s interior surfaces, giving it a new surface chemistry.
Later, the team could firmly attach a second layer of molecules that grab oil.
Argonne National Laboratory said in a statement: “This serves as the perfect glue for attaching the oil-loving molecules, which are deposited in a second step; they hold onto the metal oxide layer with one end and reach out to grab oil molecules with the other.”
During a trail conducted earlier in New Jersey, Oleo Sponge could successfully collect diesel and crude oil from both below and on the water surface.
The testing was carried out at a seawater tank, Ohmsett, the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility.
Darling added: “The material is extremely sturdy. We’ve run dozens to hundreds of tests, wringing it out each time, and we have yet to see it break down at all.”
Argonne’s Technology Development and Commercialization division business development executive John Harvey said that the Oleo Sponge could also be used to clean harbors and ports.
Harvey noted that the project team is now working to commercialize the material.
Image: The new Oleo Sponge can quickly adsorb oil from water. Photo: courtesy of Mark Lopez/Argonne National Laboratory.