Northwestern University researchers develop sponge material capable of attracting water pollutants such as oil, microplastics and phosphate; in addition, substances collected by the sponge can be recovered and reused

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EVANSTON, Illinois , May 25, 2022 (press release) –

  • Oil spills, phosphate pollution and microplastic buildup have become major problems in environmental remediation
  • Researchers call the ordinary looking sponge a pollution “Swiss Army knife” for its ability to address multiple pollutants
  • Sponge collects materials for reuse and can be used repeatedly

With a sponge that looks like one you might find in your kitchen, Northwestern University researchers have discovered how to effectively clean up oil, microplastics and phosphate pollution.

This sponge could help clean up oil spills without harming marine life and prevent algae blooms from forming when phosphate builds up to dangerous levels. To recover and reuse dwindling natural resources — like oil and phosphate — the sponge can simply be wrung out.

Northwestern engineer Vinayak Dravid, who developed the new tool, said the novel technology can accommodate multiple functions, much like a Swiss Army knife.

Dravid is the Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and the founding director of the Northwestern University Atomic and Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center (NUANCE). The sponge absorbs 99% of phosphate ions it encounters and 30 times its weight in oil.

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