Recycled bedsheets could mop up oil spills

Image: Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

A new material made up of used surgical masks and disposable hospital bedsheets can provide a low cost way to purify water contaminated with petrochemicals.

That is the finding of scientists at Tomsk Polytechnic University in Russia, working with colleagues at Lille University of Science & Technology, France.

The fibrous structure of surgical masks and disposable bedsheets opens up opportunities for recycling them, but they are made of polypropylene, which does not provide the high adsorption needed for soaking up oil. The researchers were tasked with improving the properties of the fabric so it could be used in water purification.

"The fabric is spread on top of an oil spill and a minute later it is removed mechanically, taking all oil pollution with it and leaving clean water.”

Professor Pavel Postnikov, Tomsk Polytechnic University

The team, led by Professor Pavel Postnikov, found that depositing a metal-organic framework on polypropylene, using a simple chemical method, resulted in a new highly hydrophobic and oil-friendly material.

Metal-organic frameworks are porous compounds consisting of both organic substances and metal ions. Their regular structure and tiny pores mean they have a large specific surface area and can absorb a very large volume of oil.

During the experiments, the scientists simulated an oil spill, mixing diesel, dyes, rust and other solid pollutants. The superhydrophobic oleophilic fabric was efficient in removing the contaminants and the fabric also proved to be strong and resistant to degradation by ultraviolet radiation.

Prof Postnikov says, β€œIn the course of fundamental research, we obtained a prototype of the oleophilic fabric up to 65 square centimetres in size. Such a sample is a prototype for a potential application of the material.

"The fabric is spread on top of an oil spill and a minute later it is removed mechanically, taking all oil pollution with it and leaving clean water.”

The research findings are published in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering.