Scientists Develop Sponge to Soak Up Oil Spills

Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois have created a new sponge-like material that can repeatedly soak up oil spills. The material, which can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in oil, could make it faster and easier to clean up offshore oil spills, the scientists said.

The sponge is made from a polyurethane foam coated with silane molecules, which bind with the oil when placed in water and release it when the material is squeezed. According to an Argonne press release, the sponge “looks a bit like an outdoor seat cushion,” and the soaked-up oil can be reused once squeezed out.  Current cleanup materials, known as “sorbents,” generally can only soak up oil once and then have to be thrown out, reported the New Scientist.

The scientists tested the new technology at a seawater tank at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility in New Jersey. The sponge successfully soaked up diesel and crude oil from water on the surface and at lower depths. 

“The material is extremely sturdy,” said co-inventor Seth Darling, a scientist with Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials. “We’ve run dozens to hundreds of tests, wringing it out each time, and we have yet to see it break down at all.”