Newly developed sponge material sucks up oil spills

Oil spill catastrophes like the Gulf Coast BP disaster in 2010 are difficult to clean up, with current methods being expensive and inefficient, not to mention time consuming. Researchers from Deakin University and several other institutions may have the solution, however, and it comes in the form of a new material. Called boron nitride nanosheet, this material is described as functioning like a sponge, absorbing oil directly out of the water.

This material is the culmination of two years of work, having first started as a powder before being transformed into its sponge-like state. Researchers at Deakin University and more worked with the Australian Research Council to create the material, which will be undergoing trials in the industry soon.

The powder version of the material had been created in 2013. Though the powder could absorb oil, it wasn't suitable for cleaning oil spills. To remedy that, researchers formed the powder into a sponge able to pull the oil in and, more importantly, separate it from the water. That process — turning the powder into a sponge — is described as having been "a big challenge."

The material has some additional benefits beyond absorbing oil — for one, it doesn't burn, and it can handle exposure to flames. Other possible uses includes inclusion in transparent, flexible heat and electrical insulation. It isn't clear when the industry trials are slated to begin.

SOURCE: Deakin University