Nanoparticles: The future of oil spills

Heath Brower- Staff Writer

Filling up a car with gasoline seems convenient and harmless, as most gas stations don’t want to make their customers feel guilty for buying their product. However, behind the seemingly-never ending supply of gas is a massive petroleum industry, one whose accidents are catastrophes for the world.

Many of these accidents occur when giant oil rigs break or malfunction in the ocean, releasing billions of barrels of oil into aquatic ecosystems. Entire aquatic ecosystems suffer intensely as a result of oil spills, and efforts to clean up oil spills don’t act quickly enough to prevent the devastating effects. Yet, there is hope from a new wave of research that could eventually lead to far more effective and successful oil cleanup efforts.

One new discovery that looks to improve clean-up practices relates to nano-magnetic particles. Discovered by Yi Du and Haifeng Feng, these nanoparticles are used to bond with oil and allow the oil to be manipulated by magnetic fields. Oil by itself is not magnetic, but it does have a sticky characteristic, which means that it sticks and bonds with the magnetic nanoparticles with ease, creating magnetized oil.

Once the bond between the nanoparticles and the oil is created, a magnetic field can be used to push or pull the magnetized oil in any direction. This technology could help prevent oil from spreading out from spill areas while also helping to retract the oil from places already affected by an oil spill. Dr. Du also explains that economically, using this new nanoparticle technique could save thousands, if not millions, of dollars because the particles are relatively cheap to create and use.

This discovery will require large amounts of further research in order to be practically implemented in the oil cleanup projects going on around the world; however, the tech is up-and-coming and hopefully will help make the problem of oil spills a thing of the past.

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