Cleaning up oil spills can be a painstaking process that varies in effectiveness. This goes for both spills in the water and on land. That's why a group of researchers centered at Deakin University in Australia have been working on a special sponge that can soak up oil like most do water.

This didn't happen overnight, mind you. They have been working on figuring out how to clean up oil spills for years, and developed a special boron nitride powder called "white graphite" back in 2013. "This powder had absorption capabilities, but you cannot simply throw powder onto oil—you need to be able to bind that powder into a sponge so that we can soak the oil up, and also separate it from water," said Deakin University professor Ying (Ian) Chen. They knew they needed to move away from the powder, but going from that to a more significant clean-up material hasn't been simple.

After two years, the group has managed to create an incredibly thin sheet of the porous material that can reportedly absorb up to 33 times its own weight. "The groundbreaking material is called a boron nitride nanosheet," said Deakin University scientist Dr. Weiwei Lei, "which is made up of flakes which are just several nanometers (one billionth of a meter) in thickness with tiny holes which can increase its surface area per gram to effectively the size of 5.5 tennis courts."

Even better? The boron nitride nanosheets might be useful outside of their intended purpose. The structure doesn't burn and could be used as electrical insulation, for example. But the most likely manufactured version would see the nanosheets combined into an aerogel to combat oil spills like a giant sponge. It's not clear how the sponge would then be removed, or the oil processed once collected, but one thing at a time at this point.

The research team wrote about the boron nitride nanosheet refinement in the journal Nature Communications.

Via: Engadget

Photo: Steven Depolo | Flickr

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