New Scientist reports that the new material, created by Seth Darling and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, seems to clean up oil spills more quickly and cheaply.
Unlike other clean-up methods, the Argonne National Laboratory says that the sponge can scrub the entire water column. What's more, the sponge and the oil can be reused. Oleo Sponge builds on previous research from Argonne regarding how a complex structure can retain oil. In this case, it's a cellulose sponge treated with "hard metal oxide atoms."
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.
The research was published in Journal of Materials Chemistry A, DOI: 10.1039/C6TA09014A and the next challenge for the team is to optimize the process for scale-up.