Thiruvananthapuram: A material made by researchers at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) here with manna sugar and wood pulp could be India’s answer to oil spills. The oil sorbent made of cheap and abundant raw materials is cost-effective and efficient, according to Kana M. Sureshan, associate professor, School of Chemistry, IISER, and Annamalai Prathap, his PhD student. Their report is published in Angewandte Chemie, an applied chemistry journal brought out by the German Chemical Society. Tablets of the sorbent when dropped into an oil-water mixture, drink up the oil in seconds.
Each tablet contains cellulose pulp impregnated with a gelator which is made from mannose or manna sugar. The gelator, locked within the cellulose fibres, absorbs and congeals oil. Sureshan says that the effect was as dramatic when tested on crude oil from six different countries. The researchers had reported about the gelator in 2012 in Chemical Communications, the flagship journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, UK.
In fact, news reports on it had attracted the attention of a Lok Sabha MP and recently a government agency. The agency is reportedly in talks with the researchers in connection with its commercial production. The mode of application of the oil sorbent is what makes it more practical, according to Kana M. Sureshan, associate professor, School of Chemistry, IISER. Cellulose pulp, which carries within it the gelator, helps turn it into a rigid floating mass which can be easily collected. In the 2012 paper, they had proposed that the gelator, mixed in a solvent, should be sprayed from a helicopter over oil spills.
“But the carrier solvent would contaminate sea water. Moreover, the fragility and slimy nature of the gel makes collection of the congealed oil difficult. But now, we have designed sponge pellets which can simply be sown from a ship and scooped out easily. Later, the oil can be retrieved by distillation or applying pressure,” says Sureshan. They have filed a patent application in India and are trying for international patents, especially in the Gulf countries, which have oil mines, and the US which has faced oil spill issues....