TechLaser-treated cork: A revolutionary solution to clean up oil spills

Laser-treated cork: A revolutionary solution to clean up oil spills

Wine corks
Wine corks
Images source: © Canva | oksanashufrych
7:17 AM EDT, April 25, 2024

Using laser-treated cork, scientists from China and Israel have discovered an innovative method to eliminate petroleum oil from seawater and oceans.

This groundbreaking research involved teams from Central South University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, alongside Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. They found that natural cork, when subjected to specific laser treatments, can effectively clean seawater contaminated by oil spills. Their significant findings were published in "Applied Physics Letters," a prestigious journal by the American Institute of Physics.
Conventional methods for cleaning oil spills, including absorbent brush systems, chemical dispersions, or methods involving "oil-eating" bacteria, often fall short due to high costs, limited effectiveness, or environmental harm.

The answer could lie in something as simple as cork

Prompted by the need for a non-toxic and eco-friendly solution, the scientists turned their attention to cork, a sustainable material derived from the bark of cork oak trees. "During laser experiments, we noticed that cork's wettability dramatically changed under laser influence, acquiring superhydrophobic (repels water) and superoleophilic (attracts oil) properties," explained Yuchun He from Central South University's Department of Physics and Electronics.
Kai Yin, a collaborator on the study, highlighted cork's environmental benefits, noting its recyclability and positive impact on carbon dioxide capture when harvested from cork oaks native to North Africa and southern Europe. Remarkably, the trees' bark regenerates every seven to nine years, enhancing the trees' capacity to absorb more carbon dioxide.
The team conducted thorough tests, applying various laser treatments to the cork to examine changes in its structure, wettability, and light absorption qualities. They discovered that laser-treated cork exhibits unique photothermal properties, allowing it to quickly heat up in sunlight within 10-15 seconds to 136 degrees F. This heat reduces the viscosity of petroleum oil on water, simplifying the collection process.

"Rapid pulsed laser treatment notably roughens the cork's surface, enhancing its hydrophobicity to a nano level," said Yin. This ensures that the cork repels water while attracting and absorbing oil, with the tested material capable of absorbing significant amounts of oil efficiently. Moreover, the oil can then be extracted from the cork, permitting the material's reuse in water cleaning efforts.

Petroleum oil spills, resulting from drilling platform incidents, tanker accidents, or pipeline ruptures, pose severe ecological and economic threats. They devastate marine ecosystems, impact coastal life, and can extend their damage to land organisms, including humans. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, one of the largest oil spills in history, highlighted the catastrophic effects on marine life and ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.
This promising research offers a glimmer of hope, presenting laser-treated cork as a viable, eco-friendly solution for tackling the perilous issue of oil spills, potentially safeguarding marine environments from such devastating impacts in the future.
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