Scientists make ultra-lightweight sponge that can absorb and conserve oil

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Washington, Feb 5 (ANI): Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have made an ultra-lightweight sponge from clay and a bit of high-grade plastic that can absorb and conserve oil out of contaminated water.

According to the research team, the material, called an aerogel, will effectively clean up spills of all kinds of oils and solvents on factory floors and roadways, rivers and oceans.

"The aerogel is made by mixing clay with a polymer and water in a blender," said David Schiraldi, chairman of the Macromolecular Science and Engineering department at the Case School of Engineering.

The mixture is then freeze-dried; air fills the gaps left by the loss of water.

The resulting material is super light, comprised of about 96 percent air, 2 percent polymer and 2 percent clay.

The oil-absorbing form is just one of a growing list of clay-based aerogels being made in Schiraldi's lab.

By adding different polymers, they produce materials with different properties.

"This particular one is oleophilic or oil-loving. Chemically, it hates water, loves oil: the perfect combination," Schiraldi said.

The aeorgel can be made in granular form, in sheets or in blocks of almost any shape and is effective in fresh and saltwater or on a surface.

Because absorption is a physical phenomenon, there is no chemical reaction between the material and oil.

If the oil is otherwise not contaminated, it can be used.

The material was first made when Schiraldi challenged his then-PhD student Matt Gawryla with idea of making kitty litter.

Gawryla added the oil cleanup concept to the program.

Case Western Reserve has granted a 9-month exclusive license for this and other clay-based aerogel technologies to AeroClay, Inc. a startup company. (ANI)

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