Oil-catching Mesh: Innovative Device to Clean up Oil Spills

A novel mesh, developed by the scientists from the Ohio State University, US has the ability to hold oil, while letting water pass through, having the potential to quickly arrest marine oil spills with ease to diminish the devastation on large scale.

The researchers created the technology by applying an oil-repelling coating to a stainless steel mesh, that attracts and traps oil but lets water pass through.

They team got the idea from a lotus leaf.  There are a specialised series of bumps on the surface of a lotus leaf, able to perfectly repel water only, but not oil drops. They needed the opposite: repelling oil rather than water. So they imitated this bumpy surfaced texture by spraying drops of silica nano-particles on a stainless steel mesh and covered those bumpy surfaces with an oil-repelling substance made from polymer embedded with surfactant molecules. Surfactants are common ingredients of detergents, soaps, emulsifiers, and foaming agents.

The newly developed mesh contains a coating which is almost undetectable, only a few hundred nanometers thick and around 70% transparent. However the challenge of the whole work lies in finding out the perfect combination of bumps and repellents. They have discovered that certain combinations of the bumpy and oil-repelling layers can actually produce nanoparticles that would bind to the oil instead of repelling it.

Currently, the team is exploring the possibility of replacing the silica nanoparticles with tiny nanotubes – about a thousand times smaller than a single human hair – made from a compound called molybdenum disulfide, known to bind oil very well. Thus efficacy of the mesh could be improved.

Silica, surfactant, polymer, and stainless steel are all non-toxic and relatively cheap, thus the estimated expense for a larger mesh net could be less than a dollar per square foot.

The team has realized that the most practical and present-day need for their super-mesh is cleaning up oil spills. Hence they expect their product to be scaled up and deployed within the next 2-5 years

The research is described in two papers in Nature Scientific Reports.

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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