Oil spill incidents, while relatively far and few in between, typically cause severe environmental damage to wherever coastal part of the world it wreaks havoc.
The worse part? It is just impossible to clean up spills instantly. As such, efficiency is the top priority when implementing various methods and technologies, something that this new concept would most likely soon prove on an immense scale.
One Tip, One Dip, One Sip
Argonne National Laboratory, in response to the growing importance of developing more advanced materials that can absorb oil, developed the Oleo Sponge. As seen in this short demonstration video, the sponge is capable of efficiently absorbing oil-based spills in water solutions just like most other advanced oil-absorbing materials developed in the recent years.
The key difference of Oleo Sponge, however, is its implementation or method of use. Oleo Sponge is designed to be deployed, cleaned, and reused very easily without requiring complex or costly disposal methods. As explained by the report, most oil absorbers tend to be unable to consistently keep the oil inside the material after the initial cleanup. This makes retrieval quite inefficient, as it would not only leave some oil behind, even the absorbed oil wouldn’t be extracted properly.
Researchers demonstrated the ability of the Oleo Sponge to retain its absorbing efficiency, with the use of an extra metal oxide layer coating. The coating covers the foam material, which then traps oil inside as it gets absorbed in. This keeps the oil inside the foam, making it easily extractable by simply wringing the material dry.
An Ounce of Prevention or a Pound of Cure
Oil spill cleanup technologies are inherently bad in the sense that these tragedies have to happen first to be of any revolutionary use. That said, preparation for any eventuality of such kind must be taken with due vigilance, or else we might see something even bigger than the Deepwater Horizon crisis.
In this regard, would Oleo Sponge stand up to the challenge? It is a most definite likelihood, but not in the traditional sense. The report has also stressed the importance of cleaning up accumulated oil spills from ocean traffic in ports and similar areas. This is something that we simply cannot avoid, given that fossil fuels would still be in large use for a significant portion of the 21st century.
This is perhaps where the easy deployability of Oleo Sponge can come with the greatest benefit. It can simply be installed on cleanup vessels to routinely collect and soak up residual oil in these areas. Despite not a priority for the technology’s commercialization, this can even go one step further, to create a potential industry for the “extracted oil”.