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MIT's nanowire mesh completely absorbs hydrophobic chemicals quickly and completely.  (Source: Francesco Stellaci, MIT, Nature Nanotechnology)
A new material composed of nanowires may aid pollution cleanup and water filtration.

Nanotechnology has been taking a beating in the media lately. Though the possibilities for nanotech are practically endless, it remains to be seen whether all these new inventions will ultimately be more beneficial than detrimental to humans. There has been coverage on many popular facets of the expanding field, from headway in medical science to functional nanobots to the possibility of popular nanoparticles possessing carcinogenic properties.

Rather than the popular medical science field, a group of scientists at MIT have been concentrating on a work a little more friendly to nature. Last week the group published a paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology detailing their oil-absorbing nanomesh material.

Rather than using nanoparticles like Rice's oil or water capturing system, MIT's material is actually a mat of potassium manganese oxide nanowires. The nanowire mesh, made much in the same way as normal paper, possesses several properties that make it ideal for cleaning hydrophobic chemicals like oil from water. The physical structure of the mesh allows for a great deal of capillary action, which lets the mesh soak in up to 20 times its own weight in oil.

The material is also benefits from a hydrophobic coating and does not attract water, allowing only the chemicals in a mixture to be captured. According to the authors, the mesh could soak in water indefinitely and will be completely dry when removed, though any chemicals subject to the mesh's other properties will be removed with it. The mesh is also quite durable, and able to be heated safely to above the boiling point of oil, allowing the oil to be evaporated off, collected, and both the mesh and oil reclaimed for further use.

The nanowire mesh is a promising addition to environmental cleanups. Not only is it a highly selective material, making it very efficient, due to its composition and production methods, bulk manufacturing should be quite inexpensive. In addition to spill cleanups, the mesh could be employed in simple filters to remove pollutants from water systems. Though reclaiming the captured chemicals may not be currently feasible for consumers, filters could be collected and recycled by outside organizations.

The group has also published a short clip showing the mesh in action (FLV player required).



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Seriously though
By FITCamaro on 6/6/2008 9:02:39 AM , Rating: 2
Sounds like this kind of thing has the potential to make some extremely advanced, light, and reusable filters for water and who knows, maybe even other liquids.




RE: Seriously though
By 325hhee on 6/6/2008 9:33:39 AM , Rating: 2
Hmm, Square Bob's new adversary? Nanotech super absorbent Square Pants.

I wonder which paper towel company will be the first to mass produce this, Brawny, Bounty, Marcel, etc. I can't wait for these to be available for the consumers, may make cleaning the home and cars easier, some times I feel there's some oil residuals left after wiping down some things, especially windows.


RE: Seriously though
By FITCamaro on 6/6/2008 10:10:25 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know how good of an idea it would be to use in paper towels. If it can suck the water off the floor, it might be able to suck it out of your skin with how tiny the cells are.


RE: Seriously though
By borismkv on 6/6/2008 10:59:56 AM , Rating: 3
Except that it's made of hydrophobic materials, which means that it'll never pick up water. Basically, the only thing this stuff will be useful for as a paper towel type thing is to clean up serious garage type messes. If you try to use it as a kitchen cleaning thing, you'll end up with the cleanest water spills in the world, but you'd still have a buttload of water on the floor.


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