A new kind of sponge being developed in Switzerland could help contain future oil spills. Researchers at the Empa materials testing lab have created the sponge by modifying the chemical properties of nanocellulose in order to absorb mineral oils.
Empa researchers Tanja Zimmermann and Philippe Tingaut, in collaboration with Gilles Sèbe from the University of Bordeaux, have succeeded in developing a highly absorbent material which separates oil from water. Once soaked it can be easily recovered. The sponge is produced in an environmentally friendly manner from recycled paper, wood or agricultural by-products.
Made of nanocellulose, laboratory tests show how the sponge can absorb mineral oil up to 50 times its own weight. The absorbent material keeps its own shape to an extent that it can be easily removed from the water for further recycling and disposal. The researchers are seeking partners from industry to fine-tune the effectiveness and to encourage its use in real world scenarios like the tackling of oil spill disasters.
Empa – the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research – is an interdisciplinary institution for material sciences and technology. It is part of the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ).