Oil spills are a serious threat to the environment. The marine ecosystem, in particular, takes a serious pounding because of them. Several approaches have been used so far to deal with oil spill cleanups. The latest in the list is nanotechnology, which deals with structures of the size of 100 nanometers or smaller.
The idea of using a nano sponge for oil spill cleanups was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT.) It was found out that the thin membrane made from the dense web of potassium manganese oxide nanowires can be used as a tool to clean up oil spills and remove toxic contaminants from groundwater.
The absorbents used in the past for cleaning up oil spills, including natural absorbents like hay and cellulose as well as synthetic polymer-based solvents have been effective. But they tend to absorb water as well.
The mesh of the nanowires has tiny pores that are 10 nm wide and have the ability to absorb both water and oil. However, to keep the water off the surface, the membrane is coated with silicone to make it superhydrophobic. As a result, the oil moves up the pores whereas, the water drips off the surface.
Another factor in favor of using a nano sponge in cleaning up oil spills is that the operating cost is reduced to a great extent. It is also believed that it can be used several times. These inorganic nanowires differ from other hydrophobic structures, which were made of organic materials in their ability to handle high temperatures. While, nanowires can handle temperatures of up to 600 degree Celsius organic wires generally degrade.
The application of nanotechnology in oil spill cleanups is still in its early stages, but it is one for the future. Another green technology that comes to mind is bioremediation and a product that uses this concept effectively in cleaning up of oil spills is Oil Gone Easy S-200.