Last updated May 3, 2018 at 9:53 am
An absorbent polymer made entirely from repurposed industrial waste could be an environmental breakthrough.
A new type of polysulfide made from waste cooking oil and petroleum industry by-products could soon be used to clear up major oil spills.
The compound is a combination of sulfur, an unused product of petroleum refinement, and old canola cooking oil. The result is a substance that is hydrophobic – that is, it repels water – but strongly attracted to hydrocarbons such as diesel fuel and crude oil.
The substance was described in a paper published in the journal Advanced Sustainable Systems researchers led by Justin Chalker from the Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology at South Australia’s Flinders University.
Pouring the low-density polymer onto spilt fuel causes it to work like a sponge, effectively and rapidly separating it from seawater.
Converting oil waste
The compound is not only made from waste materials, it is itself recyclable.
The oil it soaks up can be later recovered by the simple expedient of squeezing it out using mechanical compression, leaving the polymer available for fresh use.
The scientists say the new polysulfide – which is cheap to produce and eminently scalable – represents a win on both sides of the equation. It provides a potential use for the large amounts of sulfur produced by the petroleum industry but presently just stored.
It also represents a profitable way to convert oil waste produced in abundance by the food industry into an environmentally beneficial product.
“This is an entirely new and environmentally beneficial application for polymers made from sulphur,” says Chalker.
“This application can consume excess waste sulfur that is stockpiled around the globe and may help mitigate the perennial problem of oil spills in aquatic environments.”