‘Microsubmarines’ designed to help clean up oil spills
May 4, 2012
Self-propelled “microsubmarines” designed to pick up droplets of oil from contaminated waters have been developed by scientists at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), the University Autónoma of Barcelona, and the University of Alcalá.
There is an urgent need for better ways of separating oil from water in the oceans and inside factories to avoid releasing oil-contaminated water to the environment. For example, the 1989 Exxon Valdez and 2010 Deepwater Horizon incidents spilled millons of gallons of crude oil.
The cone-shaped microsubs have a special surface coating that makes them “superhydrophobic,” or extremely water-repellent and oil-absorbent. Tests showed that the microsubs can collect droplets of olive oil and motor oil in water and transport these oils through water.
Practical large-scale oil cleaning operations would require the use of motors propelled by their own natural environment or driven by an external (magnetic or electrical) control, researchers say.
Ref.: Maria Guix, et al., Superhydrophobic Alkanethiol-Coated Microsubmarines for Effective Removal of Oil, ACS Nano, 2012; DOI:10.1021/nn301175b