A new material can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in spilled oil and then be squeezed out like a sponge and reused, raising hopes for easier clean-up of oil spill sites.
But to determine whether this material could help sort out a big spill in marine waters, they needed to perform a special large-scale test.
Recreating a spill
To do this, the team made an array of square pads of the sponge material measuring around 6 square metres. “We made a lot of the foam, and then these pieces of foam were placed inside mesh bags – basically laundry bags, with sewn channels to house the foam,” Darling says.
The researchers suspended their sponge-filled bags from a bridge over a large pool specially designed for practising emergency responses to oil spills.
They then dragged the sponges behind a pipe spewing crude oil to test the material’s capability to remove oil from the water. They next sent the sponges through a wringer to remove the oil and then repeated the process, carrying out many tests over multiple days.