Super sponge ‘could help clean the environment’

December 18th, 2015 Category: Local Authority & Housing

Sponges are popular items to clean up spills and stains around the home and the workplace.

However, Australian researchers have come up with a way to clean up oil spills, not just on ordinary surfaces but on one of the biggest surfaces of all – the ocean.

By using a super sponge, scientists may one day be able to make oil disasters a thing of the past.

Researchers from Melbourne's Deakin University have created a sponge that is designed to absorb oil separately from water.

The team worked in collaboration with the Australian Research Council to develop a powder with high absorption capabilities.

Speaking about the findings, Professor Ying Chen: “Everyone remembers the Gulf Coast disaster, but here in Australia they are a regular problem, and not just in our waters. Oil spills from trucks and other vehicles can close freeways for an entire day, again amounting to large economic losses.

"But current methods of cleaning up oil spills are inefficient and unsophisticated, taking too long, causing ongoing and expensive damage, which is why the development of our technology was supported by the Australian Research Council.”

However, this new discovery could completely change the way oil spills are approached in the future, according to the findings.

Mr Chen continued: "We are so excited to have finally got to this stage after two years of trying to work out how to turn what we knew was a good material into something that could be practically used.

“In 2013 we developed the first stage of the material, but it was simply a powder. This powder had absorption capabilities, but you cannot simply throw powder onto oil – you need to be able to bind that powder into a sponge so that we can soak the oil up, and also separate it from water."

Researchers believe that the material could save the earth from potential future disasters such as any repeat of the 2010 Gulf Coast BP disaster.

The powder, is based on boron nitride nano-materials and when combined with the sponge, is said to have a surface area around the size of five and a half tennis courts per gram.

In addition, the material is designed to be fire-resistant, which makes it safe to work alongside oil.

According to the researchers, the pores in the nanosheets provide the surface area to absorb oils and organic solvents up to 33 times its own weight.

It was also revealed that the sponge can be used in flexible and transparent electrical and heat insulation, as well as many other applications.