We’re kicking off 2019 with an optimistic report from Canada.
Researchers at the University of Calgary have developed a “magnetic sponge” that can be used to clean up oil spills. The sponge is made of magnetic nanostructured white graphene, which, according to a report in The Maritime Executive, is biodegradable and can absorb crude oil up to 53 times its own weight.
When placed in water, this new material repels water and soaks up the oil. A magnet held close to the surface of the water is able to attract the oil-soaked sponge and lift it -- and the oil it has trapped -- out of the water. Oil can also be wrung out of the reusable material, making recovery of the spilled oil possible for the industry.
The team in Calgary is not the first to consider magnetic nanomaterials for oil spill cleanups, but previous attempts used materials that posed human health risks. The white grapheme-based material, researchers say, is both biodegradable and safe.
“If someone wants to start manufacturing this,” says Dr. Nashaat Nassar, an associate professor at the Schulich School of Engineering who led the team conducting this research, “it is ready to be used right now.”
"We are always trying to go beyond the lab and try to have more real solutions to what the industry is facing today," Nassar recently told the Canadian Broadcasting Service. The next step involves testing the "super sponge" on a larger scale, he says.
Chemical dispersants currently used to cleanup oil spills can cause nearly as much harm as the oil itself, so its exciting that Dr. Nassar and other scientists continue to look for alternative ways to clean up oil spills, and leave the marine environment intact.
A happy start to the new year, indeed!