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Novel Absorbent Polymer to Soak Up Oil Spill in Real-Time

Absorbent polymer developed from waste products is found to efficiently soak up crude oil and diesel from water

Previous studies by various research institutes have showed promising results for cleaning up oil spills using carbon nanotubes, sawdust, cellulose, and fern-inspired nano-hair. New study reported that converted waste products from industry is responsible for polluting oceans and sea water. Scientists from Flinders University used by-products of the petroleum and refining industries to create an absorbent polymer, which can clear crude oil from sea water.

Cooking oil, sodium chloride, and sulfur were used as precursors for producing cost-effective and sustainable absorbent polymer. Hydrophobic nature of precursors results into formation of low-density polysulfide polymer, which has potential to soak up hydrocarbons such as crude oil and diesel. “This is an entirely new and environmentally beneficial application for polymers made from sulfur,” said Dr Justin Chalker, leading author of the study. “This application can consume excess waste sulfur that is stockpiled around the globe and may help mitigate the perennial problem of oil spills in aquatic environments.”

As a part of experiments conducted in lab, polymer was sprinkled on oil floating on the surface of water. It mimicked a response similar to sponge and absorbed the pollutant within a minute. Furthermore, the oil can was recovered by squeezing the highly buoyant material, which can then be used to soak up more oil. Although a film of oil remains on the surface of the material after being wrung out, the team says this didn’t have a major impact on its subsequent performance, which was found to be similar over five sorption and oil recovery cycles. The study was published in the journal Advanced Sustainable Systems in April 2018.