MIT’s nano paper to clean up oil spills

Sun, Jun 1, 2008

News, Science and Technology

nano paper

The mesh of nanowires behind MIT’s new material for absorbing oil and other organic pollutants, here shown at increasing magnifications (left to right). Image courtesy / Francesco Stellacci, MIT, and Nature Nanotechnology

The researchers at MIT have made a nano paper which can absorb oil from water. The mesh of nano wires can absorb upto 20 times its weight in oil. The paper can afterwards be re-cycled several times. Thats not all,the oil can also be recovered. So that means, we not only save the environment but also the non-renewable resource and money. It can also help in the nanowire paper could also impact filtering and the purification of water.

“What we found is that we can make ‘paper’ from an interwoven mesh of nanowires that is able to selectively absorb hydrophobic liquids–oil-like liquids–from water,” said Francesco Stellacci, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and leader of the work.

Stellacci explained that there are other materials that can absorb oils from water, “but their selectivity is not as high as ours.” In other words, conventional materials still absorb some water, making them less efficient at capturing the contaminant.

The new material appears to be completely impervious to water. “Our material can be left in water a month or two, and when you take it out it’s still dry,” Stellacci said. “But at the same time, if that water contains some hydrophobic contaminants, they will get absorbed.”

Two key properties make the system work. First, the nanowires form a spaghetti-like mat with many tiny pores that make for good capillarity, or the ability to absorb liquids. Second, a water-repelling coating keeps water from penetrating into the membrane. Oil, however, isn’t affected, and seeps into the membrane.

The nano mesh is made of Potassium manganese oxide,which is highly stable at high temperatures. This property is used to recover oil absorbed by the paper. Once the oil is absorbed on to the paper, heat the paper above the boiling point of oil, the oil will evaporate leaving behind the paper(as its stable at high temperatures). The oil vapours can be condensed later to their natural liquid state.

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63 Comments For This Post

  1. Uncle B Says:

    An environmentalists dream! Can it be used to clean up oil spills at sea, in wrecking yards, at garages, in kitchens, around the Bar B Q, at the docks, in the storm sewers, industrial spills? The world needs more of this stuff! Thanks for developing it.

  2. Mayank Says:

    Teh problem with these “innovations” is that they never get out of “Beta” stage (if you know what I mean). They sound too good when they are in laboratory stage but they rarely get implemented in real life :|

  3. Bobby Thomas Says:

    No one ever talks about cleanup of these new nanohazmats. It’s probably going to go down like this somewhere around 2048. Check out my story, “It Happened at Nextfest”.
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    getting out of beta is not the problem.

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    This nanopaper can really help us clean up oil spills.Especially when there’s an oil spill in the ocean that could harm the fishes and us humans.

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