Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Aerogels Super-Efficient at Absorbing Oil

Every year, Americans pour 200 million gallons of used oil down sewers, streams and backyards, according to a story in Science Daily. This results in wastewater contaminated with oil that is hard to remove.

The same story reports that scientists in Arizona and New Jersey have found that minuscule beads of hydrophobic silica aerogel make excellent oil sponges. Aerogels are a porous, super-lightweight solid sometimes called "frozen smoke." They are 99.8% air.

In an experiment, a column of aerogel beads placed in flowing water that contained soybean oil absorbed seven times its weight. It extracted the oil from the water at a "high efficiency."

Expected uses for the aerogel beads: to pluck out oil from wastewater and clean up oil spills in the environment.

(Photo of aerogel in hand, courtesy NASA.)

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