The new material contains pores between 10 and 174 microns, or millionths of a meter. Because the pores are relatively large, oil-contaminated water would not have to be pumped through.
"Microfiltration ordinarily works well to remove particles but really for nothing else, meaning it will not remove oil from water," Youngblood said. "The pores are just too large, and the oil passes right through."
The new material, however, efficiently separates oil from water even though the pores are large, he said.
The membranes are said to be amphiphilic, meaning they are made of molecules with two ends - one end attracts water while the other end attracts oils and grease.
Future work may explore whether the filter works for solutions containing mostly oil and small amounts of water. Because crude oil extracted in commercial drilling operations initially contains some water, such a filter might have applications in the oil industry. Future research also will involve finding a substitute for the glass filters, which are not practical for commercial membranes.
"You would probably use fiberglass, but we are also looking at other technologies, such as a new nylon that has the right properties," Youngblood said.
A patent is pending on the technology.
The same technology also might be used to create antifogging goggles and self-cleaning eyeglasses by not allowing water to form beads on surfaces. In previous work by the same researchers, self-cleaning and antifogging behavior has been demonstrated in experiments using glass surfaces coated with the material. Eyeglasses and goggles used by skiers are two obvious potential applications, along with automotive windshields.
|Contact: Emil Venere|