Could 'microsubmarines' clean up oil spills?

Engineers are developing self-propelled nano-submarines to gather tiny droplets of oil from waters where a spill occurred.
Written by Amy Kraft, Weekend Editor

As more and more companies tap into Earth's waters to drill for oil, researchers are looking for quicker and better ways to clean up spills.

A group of engineers at the University of California, San Diego has developed 'microsubmarines' that collect droplets of oil from contaminated water and bring them to a dumping facility.

The submarines are 10 times thinner than a human hair and are hydrophobic, which means they repel water, but absorb oil.

Discovery News reports:

"These are autonomous self-propelled motors," said Joseph Wang, distinguished professor of nano-engineering at the University of California, San Diego. "You can guide them back and forth to remove oil. It's the first example of using nano-machines for environmental remediation and has opened the door to a new direction."

Lab testings have only shown that the microsubs can collect and transport olive oil and motor oil, but the research gives hope for better ways to deal with future oil spills that may be in hard to access places such as the Arctic.

Nanotechnology is already being used to deliver drugs to specific parts of the body through a person's bloodstream.

But before microsubmarines can be put to work on the high seas, Wang tells Discovery News that the team has "to address some practical chalenges."


Photo via ACS Nano

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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