Innovative sponge absorbs oil

A novel sponge has been developed at the Swiss Federal Institute for Materials Science Technology (Empa) that could be used to help clean up future oil spill accidents.

The sponge is made from chemically modified nanocellulose and can be produced in an environmentally friendly manner from recycled paper, wood or agriculturally by-products. In its unaltered form, the material absorbs both oil and water, but when the researchers modify the chemical properties of the nanocelluose, the sponge only binds with oily substances.

The light material could be used to absorb an oil spill, remain floating on the water’s surface and then be recovered and removed. In laboratory tests, the sponges absorbed up to 50 times their own weight of mineral oil or engine oil. The researchers are now looking for a partner from industry to help them fine-tune the sponges so that they can be taken out of a laboratory setting and used to clean up real disasters.


Photo credit: Jay-P/Creative Commons

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