Heroes

2 brilliant scientific inventions that could clean up oil spills for good

Before dealing with the root cause, let's keep our oceans clean.

Every year, millions of gallons of oil enter North American oceans.

While 60% comes from oils that exist naturally under the Earth's surface, 8% of that oil comes from oil spills. And those oil spills need to be cleaned up.

Empa — otherwise known as the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Sciences and Technology — and Ohio State University are currently researching two promising solutions to clean up oil spills.

1. Empa's nano-fibrillated cellulose

Yep, that's a mouthful, so to put it in easier words: Empa is working on creating a sort of sponge that is created from materials with cellulose (like straw or recycled paper). But unlike straw, it only attracts oil, so it doesn't end up removing water from the ocean.


It's not any ordinary sponge. This sponge is out of this world:

"In laboratory tests the sponges absorbed up to 50 times their own weight of mineral oil or engine oil. They kept their shape to such an extent that they could be removed with pincers from the water. The next step is to fine tune the sponges so that they can be used not only on a laboratory scale but also in real disasters." — Science Daily

A superhero sponge? I want to see this in action.

2. OSU's nano-coated mesh

Now this one isn't as cute as a sponge, but it's still incredibly rad. It's a stainless steel mesh that filters water but attracts oil.

The OSU scientists studied a lot of different surfaces — like butterfly wings and shark skin — before they came upon the ultimate inspiration: The lotus leaf.

See both of these brilliant solutions in action:

Oil spills are terrible. And while we work to stop one of the root causes (human use of fossil fuels), we can also keep our oceans clean, thanks to the brilliant folks coming up with innovative ways to fight back.

Support science so we can get better at cleaning up our environment!

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
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