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Biodegradable plant-pollen sponges may absorb oil spills

Final yr, we heard how scientists had created eco-friendly smooth gel particles from arduous grains of pollen. Now, they’ve used these particles to create sponges that would absorb oil spills, then biodegrade as soon as used up.

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

The scientists began with pollen grains from sunflowers, which have 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) with the intention to stabilize it. Lastly, 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

A batch of the pollen sponges

NTU Singapore

The ensuing sponges every have a diameter of 5 cm (2 in), though they could possibly be made a lot bigger for industrial functions. They’re very porous, however the addition of the stearic acid additionally makes them hydrophobic, which means that they repel water. Due to this fact, if positioned in oil-polluted water, they absorb solely the oil – they do not grow to be saturated with water.

In lab checks involving varied sorts of oils and solvents, the sponges have been discovered to have an absorption capability much like that of commercially obtainable polypropylene absorbents. In contrast to these petroleum-based merchandise, nonetheless, the pollen sponges are comprised of renewable supplies that biodegrade as soon as discarded – talking of which, every sponge may be wrung out and reused no less than 10 instances earlier than needing to get replaced.

“By fine-tuning the fabric properties of pollen, our crew efficiently developed a sponge that may selectively goal oil in contaminated water sources and take up it,” says the lead scientist, NTU’s Prof. Cho Nam-Joon. “Utilizing a fabric that’s discovered abundantly in nature additionally makes the sponge inexpensive, biodegradable, and eco-friendly.”

The analysis is described in a paper that was not too long ago printed within the journal Superior Purposeful Supplies.

Supply: Nanyang Technological College

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