May 2, 2016 | By Alec

Few man-made environmental disasters are as bad as oil spills, as the 2010 BP oil spill illustrated. But smaller incidents, including the systematic leaking of oil-containing waste water into nature, have a significant impact on the environment as well. That’s exactly why Chinese scientists from the Lanzhou Institute of Chemical Physics (LICP) have been working to greatly increase the efficiency of oil cleaning tools, and they have just reported a significant breakthrough. As they reveal in a new paper, they have developed a 3D printed oil-skimmer that safely and efficiently collects oil that is floating on the surface of water.

The BP oil spill emphasized how desperately such a solution is needed. As you might remember, 4.9 million barrels of oil were discharged into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days. But the problem wasn’t just that the oil has a disastrous impact on all all flora and fauna that inhabit the seas, but that oil is also particularly difficult to clean up. As a result, cleaning efforts took more than two years, after which most of the damage was irreversible.

But a low-cost solution is not far away. The researchers from the LICP, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), argue that their relatively small 3D printed oil-skimmer brings unprecedented oil collection options to the table, and safely stores collected oil without endangering other areas. This exciting and accessible solution has been showcased in an article entitled 3D Printing as Feasible Platform for On-Site Building Oil-Skimmer for Oil Collection from Spills in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces. The research was headed by professor Zhou Feng and was financially backed by CAS programs and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

What’s more, this oil-skimmer is deceptively simple. It essentially consists of just two parts: a 3D printed mesh that has been treated with low surface energy materials, and a bottom container. The 3D printed mesh has excellent water-repelling properties, enabling it to filter the oil out of the water. The oil is then collected in the bottom container, which is kept afloat by the 3D printed mesh. The bottom container is also 3D printed, and can be made on-site. This means that even oil spills in a remote corner of the Pacific Ocean, for instance, can be efficiently and quickly dealt with.

Most importantly, that mesh has been designed in such a way that the oil cannot escape out of the skimmer either. Overloading or harsh weather conditions, such as storms, won’t create a second environmental disaster during cleaning activities. This skimmer thus has the potential to dramatically decrease the environmental impact of oil spills. To be sure, oil spill prevention should have the highest priority, but you need to be prepared for all possibilities.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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