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Super-sponge polymer turns oil spill into floating gel

posted Oct 10, 2012, 4:09 AM by Cesar Harada
Via Harry Vermeulen

12:33 9 October 2012
Sandrine Ceurstemont, editor, New Scientist TV

Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, many new ways of cleaning up oil have been proposed. Now Mike Chung from Pennsylvania State University in University Park and colleagues have developed a novel approach using a super-absorbent material that turns an oil slick into a gel.

The material is a kind of polymer called a polyolefin, and can quickly soak up crude oil without mopping up water, absorbing up to 45 times its own weight (see video above). The gel that forms can then be removed and shipped to a refinery, where about 19 litres of oil can be recovered from a pound of the material. This is an advantage over existing absorbents, which become industrial waste after use.

According to Chung, the material's low cost makes it a viable solution. "Polyolefin products are inexpensive, with a large production capability around the world," he says.

If you enjoyed this post, watch a forked boom scoop up an oil spill or see a micro-submarine clean up motor oil.