Poly(ε-caprolactone) microfiber meshes for repeated oil retrieval†
Electrospun non-woven poly(ε-caprolactone) (PCL) microfiber meshes are described as biodegradable, mechanically robust, and reusable polymeric oil sorbents capable of selectively retrieving oil from simulated oil spills in both fresh and seawater scenarios. Hydrophobic PCL meshes have >99.5% (oil over water) oil selectivity and oil absorption capacities of ~10 grams of oil per gram of sorbent material, which is shown to be a volumetrically driven process. Both the oil selectivity and absorption capacity remained constant over several oil absorption and vacuum assisted retrieval cycles when removing crude oil or mechanical pump oil from deionized water or simulated seawater mixtures. Finally, when challenged with surfactant stabilized water-in-oil emulsions, the PCL meshes continued to show selective oil absorption. These studies add to the knowledge base of synthetic oil sorbents highlighting a need for biodegradable synthetic oil sorbents which balance porosity and mechanical integrity enabling reuse, allowing for the efficient recovery of oil after an accidental oil spill.