Oil spills are global disasters and whenever they occur a massive trail of dead marine flora and fauna is left behind. With such detrimental effects, the race to design a universal absorbent material/process that can aid contain oil spills is intensifying. At present, the available materials that can be used to remediate oil spills are either superhydrophilic or superoleophilic. They do so by enabling complete separation of apolar ﬂuids from water. Universal sponges/pads based on cellulose, polypropylene, and polyesters have similar properties though their uptake capacity is usually limited to a ratio of 1:1(solvent:polymer mass) and therefore there is need to develop alternatives having higher absorbing capacities. Superomniphilic materials are materials that have superhydrophilic and superoleophilic properties. Recently, the potential of hydrophobic and oleophilic electro-spun membranes for application in oil-water separation has been discovered. Unfortunately, the use of superhydrophilic and selective membranes for oil spills remediation, especially in large areas, remains a scientific challenge.
University of Wollongong researchers in Australia (Yi Yan, Vitor Sencadas, Jiangshan Zhang, Dongbin Wei, and Zhengyi Jiang) developed a superomniphilic membrane by mixing two biodegradable polyesters in a compatible solvent. The novel biodegradable polymeric blend membrane with superomniphilic properties was produced by a scalable process, which could be easily implemented to fight against environmental disasters such as large area oil spills. Their work is now published in the research journal, Advanced Materials Interfaces.
The researchers mixed the two biodegradable polyesters, poly (L-lactic acid) and poly (glycerol sebacate). They then electrospun the solution into a ground collector where they obtained randomly oriented fiber mats. Eventually, the research team systematically addressed the influence of the poly (glycerol sebacate), ratio on the wettability properties of the blend in the presence of different polar and apolar solvents.
The authors observed that the sample with 25% by weight of poly (glycerol sebacate), could uptake polar and apolar solvents thereby presenting a superhydrophilic behavior. The poly (L-lactic acid)/poly (glycerol sebacate), composite was also found to be reusable up to 10 cycles of solvent (water of organic solvents) absorption with a separation efficiency of 99.5% with its general appearance being seen to resemble the first absorption/compression cycle.
The study by University of Wollongong scientists presented a new facile technique that can be used to prepare a superomniphilic and biodegradable core–shell structure. This technique has been seen to immobilize the poly (glycerol sebacate) polymer onto the surface of the poly (L-lactic acid) electro-spun fibers, thereby increasing the presence of hydroxyl groups on the surface of the membranes. This novel biodegradable polymeric blend membrane with superomniphilic properties, produced by a scalable process, has potential application in fighting against environmental disasters such as large area oil spills.
Yi Yan, Vitor Sencadas, Jiangshan Zhang, Dongbin Wei, Zhengyi Jiang. Superomniphilic Poly (glycerol sebacate)–Poly (l-lactic acid) Electrospun Membranes for Oil Spill Remediation. Adv. Mater. Interfaces 2017, volume 4, 1700484