The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Thiruvananthapuram, developed a compound, called Gelator, to scoop out marine oil spills.
The results based on laboratory studies were published recently in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
A team led by Dr. Kana M. Sureshan from the School of Chemistry used glucose as a starting material and through several chemical reactions produced compounds (gelators) that selectively congeal oil, including crude oil, from an oil-water mixture.
Key highlights of the Gelator
• The gelators, which are in a powder form, can be easily applied over oil-water mixture. In addition, they do not cause any environmental damage.
• It can recover oil from oil-water mixture and can be reused several times. However, in the case of crude oil, the gelator cannot be recycled.
• The gelator molecule is partly hydrophobic and partly hydrophilic. While the hydrophilic part helps in self-assembling to form gelator fibres, the hydrophobic part is responsible for its diffusion into the oil layer.
• To achieve better diffusion of the molecule into the oil phase and enhance the oil recovery, the researchers increased the hydrophobicity. This was done by adding an aromatic/alkyl group at some part of the molecule.
• Since the outer part of the fibre is hydrophobic, oil tends to gets into the spongy network made of fibres.
• Once inside the fibre network, oil loses fluidity and becomes a gel. As the self-assembly is strong, the gel maintains its structure and rigidity even under pressure.