Researchers at Rice University have come up with a new technology for oil-absorbing sponges. The sponges are made of carbon nanotubes with a splash of boron . They are elastic, compressible, flexible, lightweight, and they hate water and love oil. When a sponge is placed on the surface of water, it floats across the surface until coming across oil, which it then readily absorbs.
Scientific American states, "After being absorbed, the oil can either be stored in the sponge for later retrieval or burned off, allowing the sponge to be reused."One of the most amazing parts of this technology is that the sponges can be directed by magnets, providing an easy way to collect the sponges after they've absorbed oil. Here is a great short video explaining how they work:
The researchers reported their findings in a paper on Nature.com, where they state that the sponges could be reused multiple times for collecting oil off the surface of seawater.
As we note when talking about nanotechnology, we are still unclear on how nanoparticles impact the environment. So while these sponges may be useful for cleaning up oil slicks, they could potentially do their own damage to the environment, including sealife.