Researchers at Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science have developed a novel, environmentally friendly sponge that effectively absorbs and separates oil from water, offering a promising solution for cleaning up oil spills.
The sponge, known as a coated melamine sponge, is made by modifying a melamine sponge surface with sludge-derived activated carbon. Melamine sponge is a type of open cell foam material commonly used for domestic cleaning.
In a research paper published in Bioresource Technology Reports, researcher Zhi Chen and postdoctoral fellow Ali Zaker from the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering modified the sponge's surface by dip-coating it in a sludge-based activated carbon, which is derived from the sludge waste obtained from the Montreal wastewater treatment plant, making it an eco-friendly and cost-effective option.
They found that the coated melamine sponge displayed strong water repellency and high oil-absorption capacities for different oil types, all while tolerating a wide range of pH levels. This means the sponge can resist harsh environments. Moreover, the sponge maintained its performance over multiple recycling cycles, demonstrating its durability and reusability in oil spill cleanups.
The new sponge's water-repelling properties are derived from its nanoporous coated surface, which prevents water from accessing the surface and pores of the activated carbon due to the hydrocarbon chains of myristic acid, a component of the coating, which acts like a lotus leaf surface. The long hydrocarbon chains of myristic acid, a common saturated fatty acid, make the sponge highly effective in absorbing and separating oil from water.
Ongoing studies include synthesized sponge from waste biomass. The researchers believe their innovative strategy could be further expanded through converting massive solid wastes like sludge or biomass to value-added products for continuous oil/water separation and waste-to-energy applications.
Read “An efficient superhydrophobic sludge-based activated char sponge for oil/water separation” in Bioresource Technology Reports.