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Super-absorbent polymer may be used on oil spills


October 4, 2012

A newly-developed polymer might find use in the clean-up of oil spills 
(Photo: Shutterstock)

A newly-developed polymer might find use in the clean-up of oil spills (Photo: Shutterstock)

As the Deepwater Horizon disaster showed us, we need to develop better ways of cleaning up oil spills. While many ideas have been put forth, scientists from Pennsylvania State University have come up with something that particularly shows promise – a polymer that soaks up 40 times its weight in oil.

When applied to a water body where an oil spill has occurred, the Polyolefin Oil Superabsorbent Polymer reportedly transforms the floating crude oil into “a soft, solid oil-containing gel.” The scientists claim that one pound (453 grams) of the polymer can soak up around five gallons (19 liters) of oil, without absorbing any water. The gel can subsequently be collected, transported, and refined to recover the trapped oil.

More traditional oil-absorbing materials such as corn cobs and straw reportedly only absorb about five times their weight in oil, plus they also absorb water.

The polymer was developed by T. C. Mike Chung and Xuepei Yuan. Their paper on the research was recently published in the journal Energy & Fuels.

Source: American Chemical Society

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

How about a vertically floating hollow cylinder open at both ends? Simply skim the oil / sea water mix off the surface and dump it into this cylinder. Oil should float on the surface within the confines of this cylinder pushing heavier saline sea water to the bottom, When sufficient quantity has been gathered it can either be towed away fir further handling.


Great idea, Keep our oceans clean! Maybe one day in the distant future the Hudson river will be clean and clear.

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