Nano vs. Oil
Even with oil at over $130 per barrel, the world’s appetite for petroleum and its myriad products remains unabated. To use it, though, we have to ship oil from point A to point B. And as the old English proverb says, “There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.” Hence, the always present danger of oil spills.
We clean up these spills with a variety of techniques, including absorption, controlled burning, physical skimming, detergent dispersing, and microbial action.
A forthcoming paper in Nature Nanotechnology (published online May 30, 2008) marries new nanotechnology to the old problem of oil spills. A group from MIT, with collaborators from Singapore and Japan, fabricated a paperlike membrane made of potassium manganese oxide nanowires. The new material is extremely hydrophobic, i.e., it despises water and loves oil. The result is that it sops up oil and leaves the water behind. And best of all, the new nanomaterial scrounges 20 times its own weight in oil and can be recycled over and over again.
Of course it’s better to prevent oil spills than to cure them. But once again, clever chemists have come to the rescue!