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Researchers Invent a Sponge for Oil Spill Cleanup


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March 12, 2017 by John Nicholson

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Lab recently announced that that had invented a new material that could completely revolutionize the way oil spills are cleaned up.

The sponge foam, called Oleo Sponge, can soak up 90 times its own weight in oil before it needs to be wrung out to be reused — and the oil can be recovered.

Oleo Sponge

“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,” co-inventor Seth Darling said in a release.

Currently, most products for cleaning up oil are single use, and the oil is wasted.  One of the most common products is a sorbent boom — a long tube that’s thrown on the surface of the water to soak up part of the spill, before being removed to be safely disposed of.  It, and other solutions, can be pricey and slow.

Darling and his team tested the sponge at a giant seawater tank at the National Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility in New Jersey.

The researchers say it could be used to clean harbors and ports, where diesel and oil can accumulate from ships. They say it could also be adapted to clean different substances, by modifying the type of molecule that grabs onto the dirty substance.

The Argonne National Laboratory is a multidisciplinary science and engineering research center.  The Laboratory was born out of the University of Chicago’s work on the Manhattan Project in the 1940.


John Nicholson

John Nicholson

John is a cleantech and environmental expert with over 25 years of experience. He is a registered professional engineer and has a Masters degree in environmental engineering.
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