Water Sponge to Clean Oil Spills

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Researchers developed an innovative wood sponge made of balsa wood that selectively absorbs oil from water bodies.

Oil spills due to industrial discharges in the water bodies is one of most concerning problems regarding industrial wastes and causing a threat to environment and ecosystem. Researchers have been looking for a possible solution to check oil, and came up with an innovative wood sponge that absorbs oil from water. The innovative sponge selectively absorbs oil, and then can be squeezed out and used again. The findings were reported in the journal American Chemical Society Nano (ACS Nano) on October 2018.

Previously, scientists had developed various techniques to check industrial wastes from water bodies and clean the oily water such as gravity separation, burning, bioremediation. However the techniques were expensive, less efficient, and sometimes caused secondary pollution. The researchers explored 3-D porous materials such as aerogels, sponges, and others to build a special kind material, which could extract waste oil.

Xiaoqing Wang and his team focused to make a sponge from renewable resource, wood, which would absorb oil and squeeze back without any structural damages. Moreover, wood being a biodegradable substance, won’t cause pollution in the environment. They built the wood sponge using balsa wood and treated it with chemicals to remove lignin and hemicellulose, leaving behind a cellulose skeleton. The cellulose structure was then coated with a hydrophobic coating that attracted oil, but not water. The researchers examined the working of the sponge by placing it in a mixture of water and silicone oil. They observed that the wood sponge readily absorbed all the red dye leaving behind clean water in the tray, absorbing 16 to 41 times its own weight.

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