The 2010 Deepwater Horizon may be forgotten to many, but remnants of its destruction still remain in the Gulf of Mexico. Mercifully, it appears that researchers at Texas A&M University “have developed a non-toxic sequestering agent–iron oxide nanoparticles coated in a polymer mesh that can hold up to 10 times their weight in crude oil.” In layman’s terms, they’ve engineered a material that can safely soak up oil.
As the story goes, the nanoparticles “consist of an iron oxide core surrounded by a shell of polymeric material,” with the goal being to soak up leftover oil that isn’t captured using conventional mechanical means. The next step? Creating an enhanced version that’s biodegradable; as it stands, the existing particles could pose a threat if not collected once they’ve accomplished their duties.
Well-defined, magnetic shell cross-linked knedel-like nanoparticles (MSCKs) with hydrodynamic diameters ca. 70 nm were constructed through the co-assembly of amphiphilic block copolymers of PAA20–b-PS280 and oleic acid-stabilized magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles using tetrahydrofuran, N,N-dimethylformamide, and water, ultimately transitioning to a fully aqueous system. These hybrid nanomaterials were designed for application as sequestering agents for hydrocarbons present in crude oil, based upon their combination of amphiphilic organic domains, for aqueous solution dispersibility and capture of hydrophobic guest molecules, with inorganic core particles for magnetic responsivity.
The employment of these MSCKs in a contaminated aqueous environment resulted in the successful removal of the hydrophobic contaminants at a ratio of 10 mg of oil per 1 mg of MSCK. Once loaded, the crude oil-sorbed nanoparticles were easily isolated via the introduction of an external magnetic field. The recovery and reusability of these MSCKs were also investigated.
These results suggest that deployment of hybrid nanocomposites, such as these, could aid in environmental remediation efforts, including at oil spill sites, in particular, following the bulk recovery phase.