A team of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have looked to nature for inspiration in their new oil spill clean-up system. The new technique is inspired by prickly cacti and, if successful, it could provide an innovative way to remove oil from water during disasters.

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The research, which was published in the online scientific journal Nature Communications, explains that the team looked at cacti needles and duplicated them by creating copper spike arrays that have proved to be highly efficient in absorbing oil during experiments.

The study, which was headed by Jiang Lei, said the idea came to the team when they noticed that cacti needles could collect water by condensing moisture from the air and directing it to the root of the spines. This ability is able to keep the plant hydrated in arid environments, like deserts.

By replicating cacti spines, the Chinese team were able to use metals and substances that absorb water and not oil. This allowed for the creation of conical spikes with a rough surface, which in demonstrations  were able to catch micro-sized oil droplets in water.

“Oil separation using such needle arrays has an efficiency rate of over 99 percent, and compared with conventional methods, our technique can be used continuously and is more environmentally friendly,” Jiang said in a statement.

The team hope that their techniques will be able to reduce the effect of oil spills and can also be applied in industrial sectors.

+ Chinese Academy of Sciences

via Phys.org

Images: andrew_j_w and Chinese Academy of Science