Scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Thiruvananthapuram have developed gelator that can suck up oil and congeal it.
The gelator is hydrophobic material that has property of oleilophilic (oil-loving) and takes up oil when it comes in contact with it. It can be used to recover marine oil spills with a simple, efficient and cost-effective method.
The gelator is developed using a cheap raw material mannitol and cellulose pulp through a one-step process. In this process the mannitol gets adsorbed on the cellulose fibre through hydrogen bonding. The adsorption process changes the cellulose matrix from being very hydrophilic (water-loving) to hydrophobic (water repelling).
The property of gelator to self-assemble to form micro fibres makes congealing of oil possible and the oil loses its fluidity and gets trapped within the entangled fibrous network to form a rigid gel. Gelation essentially turns the liquid oil into semi-solid and this allows congealed oil to be simply scooped out using a scoop or a sieve.
During the studies, it was found that the gelator was able to absorb and congeal 16 times its own weight of oil. Even, the absorbed oil can be recovered by applying pressure or fractionated by a simple distillation process.
Applications: Gelator can also serve as a more efficient, quick and cost-effective way for absorption of crude oil from the sea following marine spill. Unlike other alternatives, the gelator can be easily applied over oil-water mixture and no solvent is needed for spraying it thus making it environment friendly.