Safeguarding water against oil spills and polution

Oil spills like these could be cleaned up with boron nitride nanosheets. 

Artist’s impression of porous boron nitride nanosheets capturing oil and dye from water. 

July 2013

Oil spillage, organic solvents and other industry contaminants are primary pollutants of water sources and roads around the globe. The existing conventional methods used to solve spillages are not very efficient and have their own environmental consequences. Development of new high-efficient absorption materials for the effective removal of oils, organic solvents and dyes from water is of significant, global importance for environmental and water source protection. New nanomaterials and nanotechnology can help solve this problem.

Boron Nitride (BN) nanosheets have a new two-dimensional nanostructure made of a few atomic layers. The porous nanosheets have a very high surface area of 1427 m2/g and high selective absorbent capabilities. In addition, the BN nanosheets can be re-used many times by burning the absorbed oil off. They are light weight and can float on water surface, making it easy for collection from cleaned water.

The ANFF-VIC Deakin University team led by Prof. Ying Chen is a world leader in boron nitride nanotubes and nanosheets with 20 years experience. The group synthesized porous BN nanosheets for the first time in the world and discovered excellent absorption properties on oil, dyes and solvents as common water contaminants. They also found a simple and effective regeneration prcoess of the oil-saturated nanosheets which allows the reuse of the nanosheets many times.

This is a breakthrough work in the discovery of the new nanosheet materials and the exploration of their selective oil and dye absorption properties provide an effective approach for protecting our water resource and environment.

The results published in Nature Communications have attracted strong reactions from industries around the world and they haved asked for nanosheet materials for various application tests and joint venture for future development. The group is scaling up the synthesis equipment for mass production of the materials to meet industry need, while they are also in collaboration with ANFF researchers for oil/dye absorption tests in large scale.