Electical Engineering and Computer Science professor and member of the Research Lab of Electronics, RLE, and the Microsystems Technology Laboratories, MTL, Jing Kong, is part of a team that has reported in the May 30, 2008 online issue of Nature Nanotechnology, development of a new nanowire mesh capable of absorbing oil up to 20 times its weight. With at least 200,000 tons of oil spilled at sea since the start of the decade, this material directly addresses a major environmental challenge.
The potassium manganese oxide nanowires that form the mesh provide, to date, the most efficient material that is both able to absorb hydrophobic liquids--such as oil, and is itself highly water-repellent. Because these particular nanowires are also stable at high temperatures, the absorbed oil can be boiled off and both mesh and oil can be reused multiple times.
Kong reported to the MIT News Office that there are additional applications that make this nanowire mesh, which is constructed like paper, very versatile. It can be used for filtering and purification of water and selective separation of similar organic solvents. The material, unlike other nanomaterials, is also easy to fabricate in large quantities.
This work has been funded primarily by the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.
Kong has carried out this work with lead researcher, MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, associate professor, Francesco Stellaci; EECS postdoctoral associate Jikang Yuan; Xiaogang Liu, now at the National University of Singapore; Ozge Akbulut of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Junqing Hu of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan; and Steven L. Suib of the University of Connecticut, Storrs.
For additional reading see:
- MIT News Office article from May 30, 2008, "MIT develops a 'paper towel' for oil spills"
- "Environmental nanotechnology: Nanomaterials clean up", Nature Nanotechnology, Joerg Lahann.
- "Superwetting nanowire membranes for selective absorption", Nature Nanotechnology, published online: 30 May 2008, doi:10.1038/nnano.2008.136. Jikang Yuan, Xiaogang Liu, Ozge Akbulut, Junqing Hu, Steven L. Suib, Jing Kong & Francesco Stellacci