Researchers from Deakin University have invented a new sponge material made of thin, nanosheeting that is highly absorbent, allowing the technology to reduce the impact of oil spills.
“Current methods of cleaning up oil spills are inefficient and unsophisticated, taking too long, causing ongoing and expensive damage,” said lead author Ying Chen in the press release. “We are so excited to have finally got to this stage after two years of trying to work out how to turn what we knew was a good material into something that could be practically used.”
Back in 2013, the team was working on a version of the technology, creating a substance in powder form that had great absorption capabilities. The goal was to be able to bind the powder into a sponge that can soak oil up and separate it from water. To do so, they broke the powder, made from boron nitride, down and made it into thin sheets that can be assembled to create a sponge.
“The ground-breaking material is called a boron nitride nanosheet, which is made up of flakes which are just several nanometres (one-billionth of a metre) in thickness with tiny holes which can increase its surface area per gram to effectively the size of 5.5 tennis courts,” adds team member, Weiwei Lei. “The pores in the nanosheets provide the surface area to absorb oils and organic solvents up to 33 times its own weight.”
With its super absorbent capabilities, the nanosheeting can be used to provide a more efficient way to manage the impact that oil spills have on the environment. In addition, apart from its impressive absorbency capabilities, it can withstand flame and does not burn, which presents numerous applications for various electrical and insulation tasks.
Currently, the nanosheeting is undergoing trial by industry partners.