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Sponge-like polymers for oil spills

Swatches | May 1, 2020 | By:

Researchers at Flinders University have developed a material from waste that in turn remediates waste—namely removing harmful oil slicks from waterways. Photo: Flinders University.

Oil spills, whether large or small, are difficult to remediate and can lead to devastating environmental consequences for oceans and other waterways. The ability to clean up the slick quickly and efficiently is paramount to the recovery of the affected habitat.

Scientists at Australia’s Flinders University Chalker Research Lab have been working on a material to soak up oil spills that shows promise. Clean Earth Technologies (CET), a Singapore-based environmental solutions company, has entered into an agreement with Flinders to manufacture commercial quantities
of the product.

The material, a sponge-like polymer, is made from cooking oil waste from fast food outlets and sulfur, a byproduct of the petroleum industry. It works because it is hydrophobic—meaning it  separates from water and binds to oil, absorbing it much like a sponge. 

The polymer can absorb two to three times its mass in oil and diesel. It forms a gel that can be scooped out of the water, adding to the efficiency of the recovery process. It can be reused once the recovered oil is squeezed out. 

Still in its early stages of development, the polymer sponge material represents a new class of oil sorbent that is low cost and scalable. For more information, visit

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