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June 15, 2020

Using a magnetic sponge for oil spill cleanup

Ten years ago, a powerful explosion destroyed an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  The Deepwater Horizon well dumped an estimated 168 million gallons of oil and 45 million gallons of natural gas into the ocean, making it the largest accidental marine spill in history.  The event sparked a nationwide call for more research into oil spills and their impacts on our oceans, environment, and lives. Studies over the last decade have advanced our knowledge of oil spills resulting in novel applications of emerging technologies.  One brand new technology is Northwestern University’s smart sponge.  This highly porous sponge has a nanocomposite coating of magnetic nanostructures that attracts oil and resists water.  The coating can be applied to any cheap household sponge and binds with oil molecules, capturing and storing the oil in the sponge until it is squeezed out. The smart sponge can absorb more than 30 times its weight in oil and can be reused up to several dozen times without harming marine life.  The National Science Foundation-funded team says right now; the smart sponge can be used effectively to remove pollutants and toxins in water and soil.  It can also clean up smaller oil spills in a more economical, efficient, and eco-friendly manner, helping to protect ecosystems and surrounding communities.  more information: Press Release: Research site:

Credit: National Science Foundation

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