Scientists discover novel way to remove spilled oil from seafloor

Scientists discover novel way to remove spilled oil from seafloor

Scientists discover novel way to remove spilled oil from seafloor
Two Indian scientists have discovered a novel way to remove spilled crude oil from the sea — a major cause of ecological disaster along the coast. The duo from the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Thiruvananthapuram, used tiny chemical balls to suck the oil floating on water.

The balls can be scooped out of water and reprocessed to recover the oil. “In our laboratory, we used sea water and created an ocean-like environment. We used six different types of crude oil for the test. In each case, the crude oil floating on the water was absorbed by our material,” Karna M Sureshan, the lead scientist from IISER, told DH.

A government agency that deals with oil spills has found the results promising to initiate discussions with the IISER group for field trials. With increased marine traffic, oil spills are becoming increasingly common around the world.

As oil slicks pose big environmental and economic threats, scientists tried several options to recover the floating oil from the water before it reaches the shores or is emulsified by a turbulent sea. But it remained a difficult task.

Sureshan and his colleague Annamalai Prathap tried an intriguingly simple strategy. Combining absorption and gelation processes, they tightly bound the oil to a porous matrix and then simply scooped the solid particles filled with oil, out of the water.

Even full with the oil, the chemical granules did not sink but remained at the surface. The trick lied in choosing the right material. The researchers used a compound based on cellulose and  manitol (a sugar derivative) to create a porous sponge line granule that absorbs the oil through capillary action and keep it within.

These pellets can simply be sowed on the oil spill and recovered. The IISER team found out the material in 2012. Continuing with the research, it has now come out with the oil recovery process, which the scientists have patented.

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