A new way to clean up a crude mess

Janet Babin Dec 7, 2007
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A new way to clean up a crude mess

Janet Babin Dec 7, 2007
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Lisa Napoli South Korea is scrambling to deal with a massive oil spill off its west coast after a tanker collision: 66,000 barrels of crude. How to clear and clean up after a spill has long been a challenge. From the Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio, Janet Babin says researchers at MIT have had a breakthrough.


Janet Babin: MIT post-doctoral associate Anish Tuteja was told that it couldn’t be done :

Anish Tuteja: It was actually taught previously that you might never actually be able to get surfaces that would repel oil.

But Tuteja and his team figured out what everyone else was missing.

Instead of focusing on a material’s surface or texture to repel oil, they considered its geometry. They designed microfibers with a curved underside to them. The material looks similar to tissue paper, but it stops the oil from soaking through.

Tuteja says the material could one day be used to clean up crude-oil spills by separating oil from water:

Tuteja: You create a surface that would allow oil to pass through it, but water is repelled by it. You could imagine like using this material, just seething through so you collect all the oil, but water never passes through it.

Other commercial applications for the new material may include non-stick cooking pans or a coating that keeps computer screens smudge-free.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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