Mitigating oil spills in the water column†
The scale and scope of uncontrolled oil spills can be devastating. Diverse marine environments and fragile ecologies are some of the most susceptible to the many ill effects, while the economic costs can be crippling. A notoriously difficult challenge with no known technological solution is the successful removal of oil dispersed in the water column. Here, we address this problem through cheap and reusable oil sorbents based on the chemical modification of polymer foams. Interfacial chemistry was optimized and subsequently tested in a simulated marine environment at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility, Ohmsett. We find favorable performance for surface oil mitigation and, for the first time, demonstrate the advanced sorbent's efficiency and efficacy at pilot scale in extraction of crude oil and refined petroleum products dispersed in the water column. This is a potentially disruptive technology, opening a new field of environmental science focused on sub-surface pollutant sequestration.