A team of researchers working at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, has developed a new way to remove oil from water—using a design inspired by nature. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the team describes how an array of their cones could be used to help clean up oil spills.
Cactus plants have evolved a unique way to pull water out of the air—they have conic spines that jut out allowing water condensation to build up on them. But, because of the unique shape of the spines, the water surface tension causes the water droplets to be pulled towards the base of the spine where they are absorbed by pores in the plant. This process allows cactus plants to survive in extremely arid places. In this new effort, the researchers in China have created artificial spines out of copper and other synthetic materials that perform essentially the same function, only they pull oil along their conic form, while immersed in water.
The idea is based on prior research that has shown that when oil is spilled into the ocean, some of it floats on the surface, while some of it does not. Instead, it reacts with seawater and forms microscopic droplets of water that are too heavy to float. They wind up either suspended in the water, or falling to the ocean floor. To capture these tiny droplets, the team in China affixed multiple copper spines to a central structure—each (0.5 millimeter length) spine pulls oil out of the water whic travels along its length at a rate of 2 millimeters per second—creating a device that is capable of cleaning up the oil from spills that is typically missed during cleanup operations.
Read more at: Phys.org