Science

Egyptian researchers find magnetic-activated carbon can be used as an eco-friendly method to absorb and separate oil spills

Oil spill situations are extremely detrimental to the environment—ranging from destroying fish and animal habitats to harming organism functions such as respiration and feeding. Sometimes, an oil spill can destroy entire ecosystems because of food chain contamination.

While oil spills have become less frequent over the past decade, approximately 5.37 million tons of oil was spilled between 1970 and 2016. Yet, even with such a large amount of oil spilled, the previous treatments have not been sustainable.

But recently, scientists found an eco-friendly solution using magnetic-activated carbon from agricultural waste plants to aid in oil spill separation.

Traditional oil spill separation methods

The most common oil spillage treatment, adsorption, uses oil sorbent materials to soak oil from the water. These materials can be classified as “inorganic mineral materials, organic natural sorbents, and organic synthetic sorbents.”

And the reason for their high usage is their property of hydrophobicity—the ability to repel water. However, these oil sorbent materials are non-biodegradable and damaging to the environment.

Developing new separation techniques to mitigate oil spill situations

Egyptian researchers Hassan Shokry, Marwa Elkady, and Eslam Salama, the authors of the study, began addressing the sorbents used. Instead of oil sorbents, they explored substitutes including rice straw, cotton, peat moss, cotton grass, kapok, and especially water hyacinth.

These sorbents are not only natural and more eco-friendly, but also more cost-efficient. For example, some agricultural products are also classified as waste materials, thus, reusing them will save disposal fees. So how can these natural sorbents be applied?

Applications of natural sorbents

One of the biggest findings is from water hyacinths—an agricultural waste plant. Usually, water hyacinths are threats to bodies of water due to their rapid growth slowing the flow of water.

However, scientists found this plant with exceptional qualities of “high absorption affinity for the decontamination of the soluble toxic matter from polluted water.” In addition, the water hyacinth can produce nano-magnetic activated carbon (NMAC), which is a “novel absorbent for water purification.”

NMAC is produced from “carbonizing, activating, and magnetization of the water hyacinth segments.” These processes enhance oil sorption affinity of the produced material, increasing “micropores and macropores of the produced activated carbon,” according to the researchers. As a result, increases in both surface area and pore volume will create better adsorption properties.

Researchers from the study claim “the utilization of water hyacinth as a precursor for production oil spill adsorbent material will participate in solving the oil pollution problems in water.”

Turning an invasive species to aquatic life into an efficient oil spill solution provides huge strides to a greener environment. Not only will the oil separation process be more efficient and cheaper, but also more eco-friendly as well.

This post was last modified on June 29, 2020 12:52 am

Jalen Xing

Jalen Xing is a Writer at theRising and the co-founder of Students For Hospitals. You can pitch him stories at jalen.xing [at] gmail [dot] com.

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