“This fabric repels water and attracts oil. We have tested it and found it effective at cleaning up crude oil, and separating organic solvents, ordinary olive and peanut oil from water,” said Associate Professor Anthony O’Mullane, one of the researchers on the project.
It works by using nanoscale rods which attract and hold oil. The researchers took commercially available nylon, which included a layer of silver woven in, and dipped it into a chemical bath in order to coat it with copper. Then, they grew nanostructures on the fabric using another chemical solution.
“We used nylon, but in principle any fabric could work,” O’Mullane said.
The chemical treatments result in a fabric that, as well as being able to separate water from other liquids, is self-cleaning, antibacterial, and semiconductive. It could be used to decontaminate water in a variety of situations, including areas polluted by industrial waste or organic waste.
The semiconducting properties also allow it to remove organic pollutants using an interaction with visible light. To test this, the researchers tried to filter liquids like organic solvents, olive oil, and peanut oil – all of which were successfully filtered.
Leaving the material in water for a long period of time might still put it through a beating that it can’t mechanically sustain, though. “Our testing has shown the material is chemically robust but we need to investigate whether the nanostructures can withstand tough wear conditions,” O’Mullane said.
The findings have already been published in the journal ChemPlusChem. The next step is to test the mechanical strength of the material, as well as its scalability. If it’s successful, it could help clean up after large oil spills and reduce pollution.
“All steps in its production are easy to carry out and, in principle, production of this fabric could be scaled up to be used on massive oil spills that threaten land and marine ecosystems,” he said.
Filed Under: Materials • advanced