Thursday, 03 May 2012 09:31
May 3, 2012
Scientists are testing a technology that could help in oil spill cleanups.
Officials have long struggled to contain oil spills following major well breaks and other unforeseen catastrophes. While crude oil is lighter than water and mostly floats to the top of spill areas, remnants routinely litter the ocean floor. Researchers said they had developed a new system of engineering tools that could help collect such oil droplets.
Scientists are currently testing the technology, which they described as self-propelled "microsubmarines." The culmination of years of engineering research and development, the miniature submarines were crafted to pick up droplets of oil from contaminated waters and transport them to collection facilities.
The researchers, led by Joseph Wang, said that the new technology could play a significant role in reducing cleanup times at oil spills in the future. What's more, they said it would also likely bolster efforts currently taking place at spill sites throughout the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
The scientists' findings, published in the journal ACS Nano, have already spurred a wave of excitement among researchers. In their report, they noted that the technology has many different iterations. For example, they noted that engineers have also created devices based on a similar concept that are capable of transporting medications and drug therapies through the bloodstream to diseased parts of the body.
Still, they asserted that their work represents the first such instance of the technology's use in the cleanup of oil spills. The microsubmarines are approximately 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair, the scientists noted, affirming their exceedingly small size belied their prodigious capabilities.
There is an urgent need to develop advanced devices that can assist in oil cleanups, the scientists asserted, and they said the microengines are one of the most promising technologies to emerge within the field in the past decade. The team of researchers added that the microsubmarines require very little fuel and can move quickly through water, bolstering their effectiveness.
Moreover, the team said the microsubmarines are equipped with a special surface coating that effectively renders them "superhydrophobic," meaning they are incredibly oil-absorbent and water-repellent. In testing, the scientists found that the devices were able to collect droplets of olive oil and motor oil and transport them efficiently through water.
"These results demonstrate the potential of the superhydrophobic-modified microsubmarines for facile, rapid and highly efficient collection of oils in oil-contaminated water samples," the researchers said in a statement.
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