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Using Paper Waste To Tackle Oil Spills

Aerogel

Waste paper may have a new application: tackling oil spill, as well as being used to aid heat insulation.

Scientists based at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Engineering have transformed paper waste into ‘environmentally friendly’ cellulose. Known as aerogels, these are materials based on a gel, in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas.

Aerogels are non-toxic, light in weight, flexible, very strong, and repel water. They are produced in 3 days, using a controlled process that does not release into the environment the chlorine that is used to bleach most paper.  Aerogels are coated with the chemical trimethoxy-methylsilane, which helps with the absorbent propertiies, and have been established for a long time (the notion was first put forwards during the 1930s); however, aerogels used commercially today tend to be constructed from silica, which is toxic to the environment. The use of cellulose provides a biodegradable material.

Aerogels have been established for a long time (the notion was first put forwards during the 1930s); however, aerogels used commercially today tend to be constructed from silica, which is toxic to the environment. The use of cellulose provides a biodegradable material.

Tests have shown aerogels to be useful in tackling oil spills. There may also be an application in relation to packaging, to provide heat insulation. A further possibility is in the biomedical field for coating active drug substances, to protect the active ingredient from the body’s biochemistry allowing the drug to reach its intended target.

Studies have shown aerogels have an ability to absorb oil that is  four times better than commercially available sorbent polypropylene based chemicals. A key application is therefore with addressing oil spills.

Each aerogel can absorb up to 90 times its own weight of oil. This high cap city was achieved by infusing the fibres of the cellulose aerogels with a solution of metallic nanoparticles.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.