Between spreading ocean dead zones caused by climate change and pollution, and contaminated municipal water supplies stemming from widespread pesticide use, the quality of both human and marine life over the next decade is uncertain at best. We all need water to survive, which is why the creation of a novel, silica-based material that absorbs toxins in water has scientists and environmental advocates on the edge of their seats.
Patented under the name "Obsorb," this space-age glass binds with gasoline and other pollutants containing volatile organic compounds but it does not bind with water, so it acts like a “smart” sponge, capable of picking and choosing from contaminated groundwater (CleanTechnica).
When it comes in contact with a volatile organic compound in water, such as fuel oils, chlorinated solvents, and hexamine, the glass absorbs the volatile molecules within the compound without reacting with the water. Because of its nano-matrix structure, which means it can unfold to absorb the contaminants, the glass can hold up to eight times its weight and can be reused hundreds of times. ABSMaterials is currently marketing three variations of the material to firms and government agencies contracted to clean up or remediate toxic groundwater contamination sites.
This swelling glass could have huge practical implications for the EPA as well as the Department of Energy, which currently lists 4,000 priority contamination sites representing around $250 to $350 billion in potential remediation costs.
When utilized at a contamination site, Obsorb will float to the surface of the water once it is full, making retrieval as easy as skimming leaves out of a pool. Then, the pollutants can be removed and the glass can be reused hundreds of times.
Image Credit: reinerschubert via flickr/Creative Commons