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Simple mesh cleans up oil spills

25 June 2019

Researchers from the University of Durham have developed a special coating which can be sprayed onto a mesh to separate oil and water. The coating and mesh combination will be used to clean up oil spills in rivers, seas or any other body of water.

The team from the University of Durham’s Chemistry Department has been developing the coating for three years. The smart coating is both hydrophilic and oleophobic. This means that when a mixture of oil and water is poured onto a mesh material which has had the special coating applied, the water will pass through the mesh while the oil is repelled and retained on top of the mesh.

The stainless steel mesh, similar to those used in screen doors, can not only separate oil from water but also kill water-borne bacteria very successfully. Tests have so far shown the mesh separates oil from water with 100% efficiency and kills at least 99.9% of E Coli and Staphylococcus bacteria in the water.

The coating is easily applied to the mesh by simply dipping or spraying in a matter of seconds and can then be re-used many times. It works for different types of oil, including engine oil and olive oil, for example. As well as oil spills, other potential applications include food processing and chemical industrial plants.

Current methods used in cleaning up oil spills often soak up a lot of water too and need extra steps to remove the oil from the ‘sponges’ which are commonly used. This makes them less efficient as well as more costly and time-consuming to use. 

According to the researchers, the next development stage of the coated meshes will be to test them on a larger scale outside the lab.

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