Oil Sponge Could Clean up Future Disasters

While experimenting with clays and polymers for an industry research project, Case Western Reserve University's David Schiraldi, PhD, stumbled upon a low-density, foam-like aerogel structure.

Oil Sponge Could Clean up Future Disasters

Today, the engineer and inventor has seven patents pending on the material he calls AeroClay®—and one form of the substance absorbs oil. The material-made by mixing clay, polymer and water in a blender and then freeze-drying it-floats on water and soaks up oil like a sponge. The oil can then be squeezed out.

And considering the havoc oil wreaked in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, Schiraldi and his team are working harder than ever to bring the polymer to market.

"I'm not sure of any other products on the market like it," he says. "Realistically, I'd like to make sure it is in place to help out in case of a future oil disaster." In fact, Schiraldi hopes the product will be commercially available within the next year.

He says that, in addition to its potential to clean up oil spills, the ultra-lightweight oil sponge could clean up oil in everyday operations, including in lakes and rivers around refineries and on roadways and factory floors.