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Coating Developed for Oil Recovery Missions

Thursday, May 20, 2021

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Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Toronto have recently announced the development of a nanocoating designed for commercially available sponges to recover oil from water.

The coating is noted to work in temperatures as low as 5 C, providing a new sustainable method for collecting oil from industrial wastewater and oil spills in the Arctic and other ultracold waters.

Coated Sponge Tech

According to Imperial College, if spilled in cold or ultracold waters, oil becomes much more difficult to extract as it becomes viscous, reducing its flow and even begins to crystalize at 38 C with notable sticky edges. Prior to the study, more traditional practices of oil extraction from these particular situations have been noted to be either energy intensive, costly or ineffective for use with micrometer-sized oil droplets.

In other practices, the oil extraction can even be more harmful to the environment, for instance, extractions that involve reheating the oil for collection risks potential dissolving or even evaporation into the air.

Imperial College London

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Toronto have recently announced the development of a nanocoating designed for commercially available sponges to recover oil from water.

“We’ve developed an energy efficient way of reclaiming crude oil which has ecological benefits for the environment and is economically beneficial to industry,” said Pavani Cherukupally, Research Associate at Imperial’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

Made up of polyester polyurethane, the sponge is then coated with nanosilicon and capped with paraffin-like, 18-carbon ligands. The surface engineered sponge result is capable of conferring wax-wetting properties.

Cherukupally explained that the process works kind of like lego blocks, in the sense that wax-like nanomaterials allow droplets to adsorb to the sponge surface. This is due to the fact that the coating was designed with a similar chemical structure to the oil to create mutual attraction between the surfaces.

To test the extraction tool, the researchers used the sponge in oil concentrations of about 10,000 ppm. They found that in freshwater, at 5 C, 20 C, and 40 C, the sponges were able to remove oil droplets with 90–99% efficacy within 180 minutes.

Throughout the testing, researchers found that the sponge was able to have a maximum uptake of 993–1,094 mg/g across all temperatures. This was due in-part to the sponge’s ability to be rinsed with a non-toxic solvent. The rinsing of the sponge, also known as wax-wetting, displaces the sticky oil droplets and allows them to be collected, enabling both the sponge and the oil to be reused.

After the optimum wax-wetting characteristics had been established, chemists from both colleges synthesized the nanocoating which made it functional and ready to use on a larger scale.

Daryl Williams, Chemical Engineering Professor at Imperial and Principal Investigator in this work, added, “If we continue treating the environment as we have been for decades, clean water will become increasingly scarce. As such an important global resource, it is vital that society and industry has access to innovative, low-cost methods for water cleanup like those we report in our study.

“Our technology heralds a new approach for global remediation which we hope will be widely utilized before it is too late.”

Besides working as a sorbents in reclaiming oil from wastewater, researchers believe that the method could be further designed to separate other viscous organic pollutants from industrial effluents such as petrochemicals, lubricants, and paints. Other potential modifications could help to kill bacteria in river water for use in resource-limited communities.

“Developing technologies to reclaim wastewater alone is not enough,” said Cherukupally. “To solve current industrial challenges, the technologies should have multiple functions, such as reclaiming wastewater, recovering resources from the wastewater, and be reusable/recyclable in addition to being affordable. Such multifunctional solutions could reduce environmental impacts and improve circular economy metrics in meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals and net-zero emission goals.”

The research findings have since been published in Science Advances.


Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Coatings technology; Coatings Technology; Colleges and Universities; Environmental Controls; EU; Europe; NA; Nano and hybrid coatings; Nanotechnology; North America; Oil and Gas; Research and development; Water/Wastewater

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