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An inexpensive, renewable aerogel shows promise for handling oil spills

By Paul Grad |

Many methods have been developed to remove spilled oil and organic pollutants from water, but they all entail shortcomings, such as low absorption ability and poor buoyancy. Now, a team from the School of Light Industry and Chemical Engineering, Dalian Polytechnic University (Dalian, China; www.dipu.edu.cn), and Zhejiang Ji-Hua Group Co. (Hangzhou, China; www.jihuadyes.com) has prepared a low-cost, ultralight absorbent aerogel from renewable corn straw and filter paper with good performance and high absorption capacity. According to the team, the corn-straw-based spongy aerogel could serve as a good oil-absorbing material.

To make the aerogel, raw corn straw is first added to an aqueous sodium hydroxide solution, and stirred for 4 hours at 30°C. Next, the pH is adjusted to 7 by the addition of HCl. After thorough filtration and washing with deionized water, the filtered corn straw particles are dried for 12 hours at 60°C. Small filter paper fragments are then mixed with the treated corn straw, and dispersed with a high-shear emulsifer. The suspension was then frozen at –25°C for 12 hours, followed by freeze drying at –55°C for 36 hours, resulting in a spongy aerogel. The hydrophobicity of the aerogel was improved by a silanation reaction, using chemical-vapor deposition.

Because of the aerogel’s ultralow density, high porosity and hydophobicity, the aerogel is said to exhibit a “remarkable” absorption capacity for both crude oil (36 g/g) and common organic solvents, including carbon tetrachloride (45 g/g), dimethyl sulfoxide (24 g/g) and N,N-dimethylformamide (45 g/g). The team says this could point the way for the design of efficient absorbents for oil spills and organic pollutants.

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