By Carolyn Wilke
A new material can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in spilled oil and then be squeezed out like a sponge and reused, raising hopes for easier clean-up of oil spill sites.
This contrasts with most commercial products for soaking up oil, called “sorbents”. These are generally only good for a single use, acting like a paper towel used to mop up a kitchen mess and then tossed away. The discarded sorbents and oil are then normally incinerated.
But what if the oil could be recovered and the sorbent reused? The new material, created by Seth Darling and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, seems to allow for both of these processes, cutting waste.
The oil sponge consists of a simple foam made of polyurethane or polyimide plastics and coated with “oil-loving” silane molecules with a sweet spot for capturing oil. Too little chemical attraction would …