The current technologies for oil spill cleanup only focus on impact mitigation and ignore crude oil recovery. There is a need for an innovative technology to generate a high-performance material that can be used to both clean water and recover crude oil for further use after a crude oil spill,

...explains Dr. Nashaat Nassar, PhD, an associate professor at the Schulich School of Engineering.

The paper, published at the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research journal, showed MBN was non-toxic, a vital factor when using nanomaterials. Through the structural atomic engineering of MBN, the research aimed at improving the technology used in crude oil spill recovery, according to Dr. Gerardo Vitale, PhD, a research associate on Nassar’s team.

Tests on the material relied on magnets instead of physical tools to remove the MBN and oil from the water, to show the absorption was strictly the result of the nanostructured white graphene, and not crude sticking to scoops or other equipment, clarifies Michael Platt, Schulich School of Engineering.

Placed in water where an oil spill has taken place, the hydrophobic MBN repels water while attracting the oil, at which point the MBN surrounds and absorbs it.

It’s a little bit like a hotdog bun wrapped around a hotdog,

...explains Dr. Nassar.

Once the oil has been soaked up, magnets are lowered close to the surface of the water, lifting the magnetic MBN and oil together, where it can be separated and the MBN reused.

While magnetic nanomaterials have been considered before for oil spill cleanup, biopersistence – that is, a material tending to remain inside a biological host – made the prospect too dangerous, due to the risk of disease like lung cancer and genetic damage to the lung.

With MBN having been shown to be biocompatible with humans and other organisms, that hurdle has now been overcome. Nassar says the new nanomaterial is ready for real-life applications in protecting the environment, and helping safeguard oil transport over water.

If someone wants to start manufacturing this, it is ready to be used right now,

...he says.