Silicone Sponges Effectively Separate Oil From Water

By incorporating silane molecules in to silicone sponges, scientists were able to create highly efficient sponges that can mop up oil-based products mixed in water.

AsianScientist (Nov. 2, 2015) – A team led by Professor Ma Pengcheng from the Xinjiang Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a silicone sponge that can effectively separate oil from water.

Using commercially available silane molecules as precursors, they prepared ternary silicone sponges with controlled structure and porosity by controlling the degree of hydrolyzation and experimental conditions ( e.g. pH, temperature). Their findings were published in Polymer Chemistry.

Oil-based products, such as petroleum, are used in our daily lives. These materials, however, may lead to safety and health problems if they are not handled properly. For example, the oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 caused serious damage to the ecosystems of the contaminated oceans and coastlines. Therefore, materials that can effectively adsorb and transfer spilled oils and chemicals from water are urgently needed, and the development of such materials has attracted much interest, both academically and practically.

To develop materials that could effectively adsorb oil-based materials from water, the researchers combined the functionalities of silane with the morphology, mechanical and thermal properties of silicone sponges. Their results showed that the sponge displayed a stable water contact angle above 150°C, high efficiency for separating various organic liquids from water with adsorption capacity ranging from 6 to 14 times of its own weight, and an excellent recyclability under cyclic operations.

More importantly, researchers found that when putting one end of the strip sponge into the liquid, a spontaneous diffusion process occurred in the sample due to the capillary effect, causing different diffusion speeds and adsorption behaviors. On the basis of this feature, the sponge could be used for the separation of miscible organic liquids.

The researchers anticipate that their findings will lead to the design of efficient, cost-effective ternary silicone-based sponges that can remove oil contaminants from large bodies of water.

The article can be found at: Mu et al. (2015) Ternary Silicone Sponge with Enhanced Mechanical Properties for Oil–Water Separation.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences.
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