Scientists have created an absorbent material developed from wood capable of mopping up oil spills.
Researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, together with the University of Bordeaux, have developed a spongy material, chemically modified nanocellulose, from recycled paper and wood.
The basic material for the sponges, Nanofibrillated Cellulose (NFC), is extracted from wood pulp, straw and waste materials including recycled paper by adding water to them and applying high pressure. The water is then removed through freeze-drying, leaving a gel-like substance. If alkoxysilane molecules are added to the process, then the gel will only bind with oil and can be manipulated in to sponge-like structures.
The material may be used in the future as an environmentally-friendly way to cope with oil spills. The highly absorbent material is able to separate oil films from water, absorbing up to 50 times its own weight in mineral or engine oil. In addition, the sponges keep their shape to such a degree they can be plucked out of water by using pincers.
The research teams are currently seeking sponsors to take their invention from the lab to commercial viability.