Nanostructures grown on fabric soak up oil spills

"Water just runs straight off it but the rods attract and hold oil," explained researcher Anthony O'Mullane.
By Brooks Hays  |  April 18, 2016 at 10:48 AM
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BRISBANE, Australia, April 18 (UPI) -- A superhydrophobic fabric that attracts oil, being developed by researchers in Australia, may one day be a household cleaning product. As of now, it's a prototype with great promise.

By growing semi-conducting nanostructures directly on fabric, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology have found a novel way to build an oil mop.

"This fabric repels water and attracts oil. We have tested it and found it effective at cleaning up crude oil, and separating organic solvents, ordinary olive and peanut oil from water," Anthony O'Mullane, a chemical engineer at QUT, said in a news release. "We were able to mop up crude oil from the surface of fresh and salt water."

Though in theory any fabric could work, the scientists selected nylon as their base fabric. The nylon already had silver woven into it, which primed it for step two in the oil mop production process. Next, the fabric was dipped in a vat where it received a coating of copper using a process called electrochemical deposition.

"Now with a copper coating, we converted the fabric into a semiconducting material with the addition of another solution that causes nanostructures to grow on the fabric's surface -- the key to its enhanced properties," O'Mullane explained. "The nanostructures are like tiny rods that cover the surface of the fabric. Water just runs straight off it but the rods attract and hold oil."

O'Mullane and his colleagues believe the mop could be used for a variety of cleanup jobs. Its self-cleaning and antibacterial qualities make it especially versatile. When exposed to sunlight, its semiconducting nanostructures could work to break down organic materials.

"Its antibacterial properties arising from the presence of copper could be used to kill bugs while also separating water from industrial waste in waterways or decontaminate water in remote and poor communities where water contamination is an issue," O'Mullane added.

Researchers described their magic fabric in the journal ChemPlusChem.

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