Not only does the space-age material Aerogel have super-insulating powers — it is also remarkably effective at soaking up oil. AeroClay, one of the makers of the insulation, is currently working on a new sponge-version of aerogel that would be more effective at cleaning up spills — since the material has such a low density, there’s lots of pockets that can soak up oil. Unfortunately, the material probably won’t be ready to help clean up the Gulf of Mexico spill, but the company hopes that within a couple years they will have large sheets of the aerogel sponge that could be used to clean up oil slicks.
Aerogel is made up of of 99% air and can technically soak up both water and oil. Research is being conducted right now on a prototype with a different structural polymer so the sponge soaks up oil. When they get that right, the hope is that the material can just be laid on the water to soak up spills. Afterwards, the sponge can be rung out, the oil saved, and then put right back in the water to soak up more oil. The material could even be used like a ShamWow to soak up oil from rocks and animals.
Currently the super-insulator is on the market to be used as building insulation thanks to its incredible R-Value of 10.3 per inch. The amazing material is still pretty expensive however — using it to clean up oil spills may be unfeasible, unless they can get the price to drop as they advance their material. Check out a video from Case Western Reserve University that shows the material being used to soak up oil below!
Photos of material courtesy of Aeroclay.
*Author’s Note: Pictures changed on 5/14 to actual pictures of Aeroclay material