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Inspirational Story of the Week: Researchers Unveil Reusable 'Sponge' for Soaking Up Marine Oil Spills - Even in Frigid Waters...

An Article By The Good News Network...


Using nothing other than light, Canadian scientists have developed an organic smart material that can either soak spilled oil out of water, or repel it.


The material can be used in this way like a sponge to quickly clean up marine oil spills before the oil reaches the shoreline and mixes with or poisons sand, vegetation, and animal life.


The special material—called CNF-SP aerogel—combines a biodegradable cellulose-based material with a substance called spiropyran.


A light-sensitive material, spiropyran has a unique ‘switchable’ property that allows the aerogel to go from being oil-sorbent and oil-repellent, just like a kitchen sponge that can be used to soak up and squeeze out water.


“Once spiropyran has been added to the aerogel, after each usage we just switch the light condition,” explains Dr. Baiyu Helen Zhang, professor and Canada Research Chair at Memorial University, Newfoundland.


“We used the aerogel as an oil sorbent under visible light. After oil adsorption, we switched the light condition to UV light. This switch helped the sponge to release the oil.”


And the material continues soaking up and releasing oil, even when the water temperature drops, according to Dr. Xiujuan Chen, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, Arlington.


“We found that when we tested the oil sorbent’s performance under different kinds of environmental conditions, it had a very good performance in a cold environment. This is quite useful for cold winter seasons, particularly for Canada,” she said.


Part of the research was done at Canadian Light Source, a national research facility that possesses one of the world’s most sophisticated synchrotron microscopes. Using it, they were able to ensure the CNF-SP aerogel was highly effective in cold temperatures, which would be absolutely necessary under the circumstances of an oil spill in Canadian territorial waters.


GNN has reported on various scientific endevors to solve world problems that made a stop in the CLS, including an Australian-Canadian team that discovered a way of turning mine waste into arable soil—and that’s already being used to grow maize and sorghum, and a US team that took pollutant phosphorus from wastewater and infused it into a soil superfood called biochar.

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