Wood Pulp Balls can Clean Oil Spills

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 @ 02:09 PM gHale

There is an inexpensive and efficient way to clean up marine oil spills by using marble-sized balls made of wood pulp.

A marine oil spill is one of the most common disasters worldwide, which has long-lasting, negative impacts for economy and the environment.

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Apart from leading to huge economic losses, such accidents affect the flora and fauna in the surrounding area. Along those lines, there is huge interest in developing methods to recoup the oil from such spills.

Researchers from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Kerala, India, wanted to look for methods that can clean the water as well as recover precious spilled oil.

“We thought there is an urgent need to address this issue in economically viable way,” said Kana M Sureshan, associate professor at IISER Kerala.

Current methods of cleaning up oil spills include on-site burning, which do not efficiently remove the oil, researchers said. Moreover, there is no way to recover the spilled crude oil.

“We have made small balls of cellulose and dipped them in a solution of the gelator,” Sureshan said.

The gelator repels water and only absorbs the oil. It congeals the absorbed oil, which could be recovered by applying pressure or through distillation.

“We have chosen these materials because the cellulose pulp is very cheap and biodegradable,” said Sureshan, one of the authors of a study.

Each cellulose ball can absorb oil 16 times its own weight. After the oil is recovered, the left-over pulp can end up recycled, he said.

“The gelator being cheap can have a huge market potential to develop active adsorbent materials for tackling oil spills,” said Soumyajit Roy, associate professor at Chemical Science Department of IISER Kolkata.

However exact cost calculations, scaling up the synthesis of the gelator coupled with scaled up pilot studies would be important to realize the exact translation to industry in my opinion,” said Roy, who was not involved in the research.

The researchers, including Annamalai Prathap from IISER Kerala, have filed a patent for their product in India and are planning to file international patents soon.

The Indian coast guard and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) have shown interest to mass produce the material with the help of government support, Sureshan said.

The researchers tested their material on various crude oil varieties from various parts of the world including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

All crude oils were instantaneously absorbed by the material, researchers said.

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