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June 4, 2008

Environment

Nanowire Membrane Sops Up Oil

Recyclable, paperlike material provides new option for cleaning up oil spills

Carrie Arnold

When placed on an oil spill, a thin nanowire mesh membrane selectively absorbs the oil and leaves water behind, researchers have found. The superhydrophobic manganese oxide-polymer composite, created by Francesco Stellacci at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and coworkers, can trap up to 20 times its weight in oil and is recyclable, making it a viable option for environmental cleanup (Nat. Nanotechnol., DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2008.136).

Nat. Nanotechnol.
SUPERMATERIAL A reusable mat of paperlike nanowires could become a key technology for cleaning up hazardous spills in the environment.

The research team synthesized the "oleophilic" membrane material by heating manganese oxide nanowires with polydimethysiloxane, cross-linking silicon with the manganese oxide. When the membrane is placed in a mixture of oil and water, it repels water while its rough surface acts like a paper towel to absorb the oil. Capillary action augments the absorption by drawing the oil deep into the interstitial spaces between the nanowires, a process Stellacci calls "selective superabsorbance."

The durable membranes can withstand harsh conditions, which improves their suitability for use in oil spill cleanup. The team has shown that the membranes can be cleaned by ultrasonic washing and autoclaving and can be reused.

The nanowire membrane technology could have broad appeal as a commercial solution for cleaning up oil spills, the researchers note.

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ISSN 0009-2347
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