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New filtering technology has environmental, industrial applications

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Materials engineers have created a new type of membrane that separates oil from water and, if perfected, might be used for environmental cleanup, water purification and industrial applications.

The new technology would last longer than conventional filters for separating oil from water and works by attracting water while beading oil, traits that are usually mutually exclusive. Researchers attached the material to a glass filter commonly used in laboratory research.

"We take mixtures of oil dispersed in water and run them through these filters, and we are getting 98 percent separation," said Jeffrey Youngblood, an assistant professor of materials engineering at Purdue University. "This is pretty good because if you don't modify the glass filters with our material essentially all the oil goes through. If you modify it with our material, then almost none of the oil goes through."

Findings were detailed in a paper that appeared online in October in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science. The paper, which was written by Youngblood and materials engineering doctoral student John A. Howarter, also will appear in an upcoming print edition of the journal.

The findings demonstrate how an oily substance called hexadecane beads up on the membrane while water passes through.

The membrane consists of a layer of material called polyethylene glycol, and each molecule is tipped with a Teflon-like "functional group" made with fluorine. Water molecules are attracted to the polyethylene glycol, yet pass through the Teflon-like layer, which acts as a barrier to the oil molecules.

The researchers have tested the material with solutions containing oil suspended in water, similar to concentrations existing in oil spills and other environmental cleanup circumstances.

"To clean up an oil spill, for example, you could run contaminated water through a bunch of these filters to remove the

Contact: Emil Venere
Purdue University

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