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IISER researchers develop Gelator to scoop out marine oil spills

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.

Nov 3, 2016 16:12 IST
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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.

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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.

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