Biodegradable plant-pollen sponges could soak up oil spills

Last year, we heard how scientists had created eco-friendly comfortable gel particles from exhausting grains of pollen. Now, they’ve used these particles to create sponges that could soak up oil spills, then biodegrade as soon as used up.

Developed by a crew from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University, the gel-making course of is described as being just like the manufacturing of cleaning soap.

The scientists began with pollen grains from sunflowers, which had been already lined with a naturally occurring sticky oil-based cement. That cement was eliminated by incubating the grains in alkaline circumstances for 3 days, leaving their gel-like inside substance behind.

That gel was then freeze-dried to type a three-dimensional spongey materials, which was subsequently heated to 200 ºC (392 ºF) in an effort to stabilize it. Finally, the fabric was coated with a layer of stearic acid, which is a fatty acid present in vegetable and animal fats.

A batch of the pollen sponges

NTU Singapore

The ensuing sponges every have a diameter of 5 cm (2 in), though they could be made a lot bigger for business purposes. They’re very porous, however the addition of the stearic acid additionally makes them hydrophobic, which means that they repel water. Therefore, if positioned in oil-polluted water, they soak up solely the oil – they do not turn out to be saturated with water.

In lab exams involving numerous sorts of oils and solvents, the sponges had been discovered to have an absorption capability just like that of commercially accessible polypropylene absorbents. Unlike these petroleum-based merchandise, nevertheless, the pollen sponges are made out of renewable supplies that biodegrade as soon as discarded – talking of which, every sponge might be wrung out and reused a minimum of 10 occasions earlier than needing to get replaced.

“By fine-tuning the material properties of pollen, our team successfully developed a sponge that can selectively target oil in contaminated water sources and absorb it,” says the lead scientist, NTU’s Prof. Cho Nam-Joon. “Using a material that is found abundantly in nature also makes the sponge affordable, biodegradable, and eco-friendly.”

The analysis is described in a paper that was not too long ago revealed within the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Source: Nanyang Technological University

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