Magnetic Floating Foam Cleans Up Oil | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 21 | p. 33 | Concentrates
Issue Date: May 21, 2012

Magnetic Floating Foam Cleans Up Oil

Material made magnetic by iron nanoparticles could be used to extract oil from contaminated water
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Nano SCENE, Materials SCENE, Environmental SCENE
Keywords: oil spill, polyurethane, foam, iron oxide nanoparticles, magnet
A new foam selectively absorbs oil (tinted blue) from an oil-water mixture.
Credit: ACS Nano
Modified polyurethane foam soaks up oil (tinted blue) leaving water behind.
A new foam selectively absorbs oil (tinted blue) from an oil-water mixture.
Credit: ACS Nano

Cleaning up oil spills could one day be as simple as floating foam over them, thanks to material developed by researchers in Italy. By treating polyurethane foam with submicrometer polytetrafluoroethylene particles and iron oxide nanoparticles capped with oleic acid, a team led by Athanassia Athanassiou, Paola Calcagnile and Despina Fragouli of the Italian Institute of Technology transformed the foam from a material that repels both oil and water into one that soaks up oil, leaving purified water behind (ACS Nano, DOI: 10.1021/nn3012948). The iron oxide nanoparticles make the material magnetic so it can be moved on the surface of an oil slick without having to be touched. The researchers point out that the iron oxide is bound within the foam’s porous network by weak attractive surface forces. This, they say, makes it easy to remove the nanoparticles from the foam for recycling. Although the researchers have used the foam only on small samples to date, they note that it is made from inexpensive materials and could be scaled up to clean large oil spills.

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