New Oil Cleanup Technology Could Speed Cleanup
Researchers from Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology of A*STAR have developed an oil-scavenging material or supergelator that could help clean up oil spills.
Current techniques can include the use of dispersants that result in oil molecules remaining in the water over long periods of time, potentially being spread over a larger area as they are carried by wind and waves.
Motivated by the need for a more effective oil spill control solution, the researchers, led by Dr Huaqiang Zeng, developed new compounds that dissolve easily in environmentally friendly solvents and gel rapidly upon contact with oil. The supergelator molecules arrange themselves into a 3D network, entangling the oil molecules into clumps that can then be easily skimmed off the water’s surface.
The supergelators have been tested on various types of weathered and unweathered crude oil in seawater, and have been found to be effective in solidifying them within minutes at room temperature. In addition, tests carried out by the research team showed that the supergelator was not toxic to human cells, as well as zebrafish embryos and larvae. The researchers believe that these qualities would make the supergelators suitable for use after large oil spills.