As the Deepwater Horizon disaster showed us, we need to develop better ways of cleaning up oil spills. While many ideas have been put forth, scientists from Pennsylvania State University have come up with something that particularly shows promise – a polymer that soaks up 40 times its weight in oil.
When applied to a water body where an oil spill has occurred, the Polyolefin Oil Superabsorbent Polymer reportedly transforms the floating crude oil into “a soft, solid oil-containing gel.” The scientists claim that one pound (453 grams) of the polymer can soak up around five gallons (19 liters) of oil, without absorbing any water. The gel can subsequently be collected, transported, and refined to recover the trapped oil.
More traditional oil-absorbing materials such as corn cobs and straw reportedly only absorb about five times their weight in oil, plus they also absorb water.
The polymer was developed by T. C. Mike Chung and Xuepei Yuan. Their paper on the research was recently published in the journal Energy & Fuels.