Oil and diesel spills can cause unmeasurable amounts of damage to the environment and the wildlife that inhabit it. That’s why scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have claimed to found an easy cleaning solution. They’ve come up with a block of sponge that will be able to soak up oil and diesel from the water and be rung out separating the oil and allowing the sponge to be used again.
This new sponge invention, called Oleo Sponge, began in a lab with the use of common polyurethane foam. Polyurethane is found in even the most common household items like insulation, cushions, and other furniture. What makes the foam good for picking up oil is the fact that it has lots of little pockets, sort of like an English muffin.
Once they had the polyurethane foam, the scientist used nanotechnology, which has been currently developing at Argonne, to infuse the foam with a firm layer of “primer”. This layer of primer is what give the foam a new layer that allowed the scientist to attach a second layer of molecules that give the sponge the ability to collect the oil.
Of course, once the Oleo Sponge was created there had to be a test to prove that it’s able to do what they predicted. The test occurred at the giant seawater tank Ohmset, located in New Jersey. Ohmset is also home to the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility. In the assessment of the sponge’s oil soaking ability, it was proven that Oleo Sponge is quite capable of removing oil and diesel from below and on top of the water’s surface.
Co-inventor and scientist at Agonne, Seth Darling, commented on the new material saying that 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.”
The team’s research was funded by the U.S Coast Guard and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. The resources used by the team were from the Center for Nanoscale Materials which is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility. The team who created the Oleo Sponge is also actively trying to commercialize the material. If anyone is interested in possibly licensing and assisting with the further development of the technology can contact Partnership@anl.gov. The team has hopes that Oleo Sponge will be used to clean ports and harbors where ship traffic accumulates a lot of oil and diesel spills. More information about the process can be found here.