Research Highlight

New adsorbent to clean marine oil spills

doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.107 Published online 24 August 2017

Organogelators could be useful for combating large oil spills that contaminate sea water and threaten marine organisms.

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Researchers have synthesized a material that can selectively absorb oil from an oil-water mixture, making it an efficient adsorbent to deal with marine oil spills1.   

Apart from their economic costs, oil spills are harmful to marine ecosystems. Methods such as on-site burning and skimming don’t efficiently remove the oil.  

Scientists led by Kana M. Sureshan from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, India prepared an adsorbent by mixing sugar-derived organic gelator with cellulose pulp. They then tested the adsorbent’s oil-absorbing and water-repelling properties by exposing it to droplets of oil and water separately.

When exposed to a mixture of crude oil and water mixture, the adsorbent quickly took up the oil, indicating its oil-loving nature, and retained its globular shape, making it easy to scoop out after two hours.

The adsorbent can take oil 16 times of its own weight which could be recovered by pressure or distillation. The method works well with crude oils from different countries, says Sureshan. 


1. Pratap, A. et al. Organogelator – cellulose composite for practical and ecofriendly marine oil spill recovery. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.(2017) doi: 10.1002/anie.201704699