Watch: Ultimate Answer to Oil Spill Clean-Ups?

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The New Scientist has released a video about a new material that 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.

The material, created by Seth Darling and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, is a foam made of polyurethane or polyimide plastics and coated with “oil-loving” silane molecules.

In laboratory tests, the researchers found that when engineered with just the right amount of silane, their foam could repeatedly soak up and release oil with no significant changes in capacity.

A test in a large pool specially designed for practising emergency responses to oil spills has so far proved that the treated foams are more successful than other methods and that the material could be used for spills near shores, where clean-up is particularly difficult.

However, the team does not yet know whether the material can perform well under the high pressures of the deep sea.

The next challenge is to optimise the process for scale-up.

Darling said to New Scientist: “In an ideal world, you would have warehoused collections of this foam sitting near wherever there are offshore operations… or where there’s a lot of shipping traffic, or right on rigs… ready to go when the spill happens.”

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