New sponge for cleaning harbor oil leaks has a successful real-world test


Seth Darling, Jeff Elam, and Ed Barry conduct research experiments with the Oleo Sponge in Santa Barbara, California.

In March 2017, Ars wrote about a new material that could soak up oil like a sponge. The so-called Oleo Sponge could be wrung out, the oil could be collected, and the sponge could be used again. The material had just been developed at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) outside of Chicago, so it was still being tested in controlled environments.

Now, Argonne has announced a successful real-world test of the Oleo Sponge at an oil seep in a channel near Goleta, California.

Tanker or pipeline spills, on the other hand, occur where the ecological balance can't withstand significant injections of oil and gas. In addition, the oil industry's attempts to clean offshore oil spills have a startlingly poor track record. Smithsonian Magazine reports that BP only ever recovered about 25 percent of the oil it spilled during the Deepwater Horizon disaster.The test, conducted in April, involved immersing the Oleo Sponge in the Coal Oil Point Seep Field in the Santa Barbara Channel. The oil seep field is natural and is one of the largest in the known world (PDF). Not only does it release lots of methane every day, but it also releases oil into the channel water. A press release from ANL notes, "the seeps have been active for at least 500,000 years and release roughly 40 tons of methane, 19 tons of other organic gases, and more than 100 barrels of liquid petroleum daily."


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