A*STAR develops material that can clean oil spills more effectively

Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have developed a "supergelator" that it claims can clean up oil spills efficiently and rapidly and prevent secondary pollution.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*STAR) Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have developed a "supergelator" that can tackle oil spills.

IBN said current techniques of cleaning up oil spills - such as dispersants or burning - are not very efficient, and may cause further pollution or damage to the environment. These methods can result in the incomplete removal of the oil, allowing oil molecules to be spread over a larger area.

In a media release on Friday (Jun 17), IBN said that the supergelator can clean up oil spills efficiently and rapidly and prevent secondary pollution. It is made out of highly soluble small organic molecules which assemble into nanofibres, which then form a 3D net that trap oil molecules.

The supergelator can then be easily removed from the surface of the water.

“The most interesting and useful characteristic of our molecules is their ability to stack themselves on top of each other. These stacked columns allow our researchers to create and test different molecular constructions, while finding the best structure that will yield the desired properties,” said IBN Team Leader and Principal Research Scientist Dr Zeng Huaqiang.

IBN said the supergelator was found to be effective to solidify various types of crude oil in seawater, and takes minutes to solidify for easy removal. It was also found to be not toxic to human cells as well as zebrafish embryos and larvae.

"The researchers believe that these qualities would make the supergelators suitable for use in large oil spill areas," IBN said.

IBN is now looking for industrial partners to further develop its technology for commercial use.

“Marine oil spills have a disastrous impact on the environment and marine life, and result in an enormous economic burden on society. Our rapid-acting supergelators offer an effective cleanup solution that can help to contain the severe environmental damage and impact of such incidents in the future,” said IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y Ying.

The research was published in scientific journal Chemistry of Materials in May.

- CNA/av

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