Magnetically-driven sponge: a solution to oil spill disaster?

Despite preventive measures, accidents do still happen involving oil spills in the oceans.  That’s why scientists continue to find ways to better contain such spillage. And they found that an ordinary polyurethane foam can potentially remove oil contaminants from the water.

Magnetically-driven sponge
Magnetically-driven sponge

In a recent study, researchers have found a potential in an ordinary, unmodified polyurethane (PU) foam.  They observed that since this kind of foam is inherently hydrophobic and oleophobic, it can repel both water and oil from the surface of the foam.

Researchers at the American Chemical Society revealed that the typical sponge used in many household cleaning purposes can efficiently suck up unwanted oil from the water, but at the same time eliminate the other liquid.

By infusing a combination of electrostatic polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) particle and colloidal iron oxide nanoparticles (NP) into it, the now magnetic sponge can separate oil from water at significantly quick speed, reaching saturation in less than a minute.  Both the PTFE and NP can transform the properties of the sponge into a highly hydrophobic and oleophilic material. Additionally, the nanoparticles can also make the sponge magnetic because of the magnetic properties of the iron oxides.

This new development will, indeed, be a welcome relief to our contaminated oceans that have been suffocating from oil spill disasters, among many other contaminants.

However, one of the project’s researchers, Dr.  Athanassia Athanassiou, admitted that they still need further studies regarding the foam’s viability on a large-scale level to clean up oil spills.

Sources revealed that even if the sponges are cheap,  the cost of chemical treatment process is quite prohibitive.  But on the brighter side, Dr. Athanassiou assures that, “the modification of the commercial PU foams is achieved with simple steps; this makes the scale-up feasible, simple, and economically viable”.

Even as we await the availability of the magnetic-driven sponge or similar development, let us remain vigilant about protecting our oceans, in particular, and the environment, in general.

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