Researchers developing nano-scale carbon 'scavengers' as solution for oil spills  

July. 23, 2015

iSEE funds research on nano particles as cheap environmental boost against oil spills.

satellite image of ocean oil spillISTC Senior Research Engineer B.K. Sharma and Dipanjan Pan, director of the University of Illinois Master of Engineering in Bioinstrumentation Program and assistant professor in Bioengineering, Materials Science and Engineering and with the Beckman Institute, are applying carbon nano particles (CNP) to the problem of cleaning up oil spills.

They will lead a U of I team which was just awarded $85.000 a year for two years by the University's Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) to develop CNP as a cleanup strategy for hydrocarbon spills on land and sea. They are studying Nano-Carbo-Scavengers (NCS) for their ability to absorb, disperse and recover oils simultaneously. ISTC Senior Chemist John Scott will provide analytical expertise to the project. 

Large and small petroleum spills can damage ecosystems and cause economic losses. A non-toxic method for mitigating spills might have been a game changer during the Deep Water Horizon disaster in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, where chemical cleanup treatments and residual oil had significant ecological impacts. In another oil spill crisis, for 74 days in 2009, a blowout at the Montara wellhead platform fed a vast oil slick in the Timor Sea, off the northern coast of Western Australia (photo right)

It is one of four projects iSEE funded for their promise for leading to 'actionable' solutions to grand challenges faced by our planet. 

The NCS material would also be an advancement for land-based drilling and fracking operations. The project will evaluate various co-polymers and structural compositions for their adsorption/dispersion capabilities of complex hydrocarbons under different conditions.

The researchers posit that the development of a successful carbo-scavenger material could provide an easy, cheap, and environmental-friendly method of oil spill cleanup. At a spill site, the NCS powder could be spread over the affected area, forming clumps which accumulate for simple recovery by nets or booms and leaving no residual oil.

There are thousands of spills in the ocean each year. Current cleanup techniques leave behind ecologically hazardous residues and/or contribute toxins to the ecosystem.

The team has already developed expertise in the design and testing of CNPs, having published a paper in June on their use as a method to carry pharmaceutical drugs to specific tissues in the body.


Contact: B.K. Sharma