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Scientists create a mesh that lets water through but captures oil

Alternative World News NetworkNov 14, 2016, 8:59:15 PM

Researchers at The Ohio State University have developed a mesh that is capable of letting water pass through it, while blocking and collecting the oil that comes into contact with it.

The material is actually a piece of stainless steel that is coated with the super-thin oil repellant.

"If you scale this up, you could potentially catch an oil spill with a net," said Bharat Bhushan, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Howard D. Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State.

The steel is sprayed with a fine layer of silica to produce a randomly bumpy surface.  From here, a polymer and surfactant (the material  that gives cleaning power to soap) are added as a final layer.  This new material will catch and repel the oil.

"We've studied so many natural surfaces, from leaves to butterfly wings and shark skin, to understand how nature solves certain problems," Bhushan said. "Now we want to go beyond what nature does, in order to solve new problems."


This mesh, which is covered in a coating invented at The Ohio State University, captures oil (red) while water (blue) passes through. Credit: Jo McCulty, courtesy of The Ohio State University.


The material is non-toxic and super cheap, estimatedly costing less than a dollar per square foot.

By mimicking natural structures, like the bumpy skin of a lotus flower, they are able to reproduce and enhance nature's own cleaning mechanisms, though Philip Brown, another researcher on the project, knows that taking it further is paramount.

"Nature reaches a limit of what it can do," he says.  "To repel synthetic materials like oils, we need to bring in another level of chemistry that nature doesn't have access to."