Oil spills are disastrous for the environment, but a newly developed absorbent polymer could prove a novel cleaning solution.
Developed by Australian and European researchers, with details published in the journal Advanced Sustainable Systems, the material is actually a combination of used cooking oils and sulphur — the latter of which is a waste product of the petroleum industry.
Like a sponge, the polymer sucks up crude oil, which then can be squeezed and reused again. While there have been other sponge-like solutions to oil spills mooted in the past, this new polymer solution is created from waste products, which is of additional benefit to the environment.
“This application can consume excess waste sulfur that is stockpiled around the globe and may help mitigate the perennial problem of oil spills in aquatic environments,” Justin Chalker, the research’s lead and synthetic chemistry lecturer at Flinders University, said in a statement.
Sulphur and cooking oils are hydrophobic, which means they repel water, but they have an affinity for hydrocarbons like crude oil.
As per a laboratory demonstration, it takes less than one minute for the polymer to absorb the crude oil, forming a floating cluster that can be then removed with a net.
In 2017 alone, there was approximately 7,000 tonnes of crude oil spilt by tankers into the ocean, according to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation.
Currently, there are several ways to clean up crude oil spills. If there is no risk of polluting coastal regions or marine industries, the oil can be left to break down naturally.
For heavier spills, the oil is contained with booms and skimmers that are deployed to remove the substance off the water’s surface. Biological agents or dispersants can be introduced to speed up the oil’s degradation.
When produced at scale, researchers anticipate the polymer to be an inexpensive solution to cleaning up oil spills, given the low cost of waste cooking oils and sulphur which forms the basis of the polymer. That low cost means it could be an effective solution for smaller, localised oil spills in countries where clean-up resources can be limited.
The world’s largest oil spill, BP’s Deepwater Horizon in 2010, released 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, costing $61.6 billion to clean up.
“This is a new class of oil sorbents that is low-cost, scalable, and enables the efficient removal and recovery of oil from water,” Chalker added.
from Mashable! https://on.mash.to/2JcZ8mJ