A pioneering sponge looks set to help clear up our oceans
The new Oleo sponge, developed at Argonne National Laboratory (Illinois, US), could help to revolutionise how we clean up our oceans when they are hit by harmful oil spills. When they do happen, spills can be disastrous for marine wildlife and seabirds. The massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the largest recorded accidental marine oil spill in history, released 210 million US gallons of oil into the ocean. Because oil spills are very difficult to clean up, the devastating effects of the spill were still being recorded years after the incident. But a pioneering invention by the researchers at Argonne are lighting the way in how to better deal with these disasters.
The Oleo sponge is made from a combination of polyurethane foam and oleophilic molecules (which give the sponge its name) and can draw oil out of water. Although harmful residues from oil spills can be skimmed or burned from the ocean’s surface, oil can still be present beneath the waves. The Oleo sponge allows submerged oil to be collected and removed from the depths, and can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in oil.
All the more amazing, the sponge can be wrung out, allowing the oil to be reused rather than discarded. According to the Wall Street Journal, the product could be available for real-world use within five years. Seth Darling, co-inventor of the sponge, stated that “The Oleo Sponge offers a set of possibilities that, as far as we know, are unprecedented”. The Oleo sponge has some excellent potential and could help repair damage done to marine ecosystems by oil spillages more effectively than ever before.
Argonne’s promotional video showcasing the Oleo sponge can be seen here.