Superabsorbent material a solution to oil spills?

Researchers have developed what may be a 'complete solution' to cleaning up oil spills — a superabsorbent material that soaks up 40 times its own weight in oil and can then be shipped to an oil refinery and processed to recover it.

According to Pennsylvania State University researchers Mike Chung and Xuepei Yuan, the polymer transforms an oil spill into a soft, solid oil-containing gel. One pound of the material can recover about five gallons of crude oil. In comparison, other absorbents such as corncobs and straw can only hold about five times their weight and pick up water as well as oil. These materials then become industrial waste that must be disposed of in special landfills or burned. According to Chung and Yuan, the gel is strong enough to be collected and transported. It can then be converted to a liquid and refined like regular crude oil. It is estimated that this oil would be worth $15 (£9) when crude oil sells for $100 (£62) a barrel. "Overall, this cost effective new polyolefin oil-SAP technology will dramatically reduce the environmental impacts from oil spills and help recover one of our most precious natural resources," Chung concluded.