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Will Synthetic Sponge Revolutionize Ocean Oil Spill Cleanup?

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Wow. Can it be that the BP Deepwater Horizons oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was five years ago?

For those of us who make a living from the sea, the memories of millions of gallons of crude oil spewing into the Gulf is still fresh on our minds.  As private yacht charter consultants, we look for every opportunity to promote sustainability and environmental awareness to our clients.

That’s why we were thrilled to read a recent report from a team of researchers at Australia’s Deakin University.  These scientists claim to have found an effective solution to clean up a major oil spill at sea.

They have developed a special porous material that can soak up to 33 times its own weight in oil and organic solvents.

3 glass dishes showing steps of oil removal with inserted sponge

About two years ago, the researchers developed a boron nitride powder which they named, “White graphite.” The powder exhibited strong oil-absorption properties.  From there, they developed a sponge containing the boron nitride powder. They broke the powder down into thin nanosheets, consisting of tiny flakes measuring only several nanometers in thickness. The flakes have tiny, microscopic holes that serve to increase the sponge’s surface area per gram to the size of five and a half tennis courts.

“The pores in the nanosheets provide the surface area to absorb oils and organic solvents up to 33 times its own weight,” says Dr Weiwei Lei, lead researcher for the University’s team.

Additionally, the sponge material is said to be flame-resistant.

The Deakin researchers are now looking for industry partners to begin trialing the technology, with the hopes it can be adapted to form ultra-light aerogels and membranes to clean up large-scale ocean oil spills. With any luck at all, the idea of a Florida yacht charter vacation being postponed or cancelled due to a nearby oil spill might become a problem of the past.

Photo of birds flying in orange sunset

Jana Sheeder, President of 1-800 Yacht Charters is thrilled about this and says, “This is good news for charterers, and great news for our coastal wildlife and marine environment!”
What actions do you take in your daily life to improve and protect your hometown’s natural resources?

Share your actions and ideas with us below, and we’ll send you a complimentary Eco-tote bag.

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