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I’ve written before about the work of David Schiraldi’s aerogel research group at Case Western Reserve University. With much of North and Central America focused on the BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s worth noting that Schiraldi and his team have had success in developing prototypes of special reuseable aerogel sponges for sopping up oil.

Schiraldi describes his aerogels as “aeroclays,” and they are often combinations of clay and polymers and other materials that are mixed in to add special properties. CWRU featured the oil absorbency properties of one of the aeroclay versions in a story and a short video demonstration on its website in February.

An ultra-lightweight sponge made of clay and a bit of high-grade plastic draws oil out of contaminated water but leaves the water behind.

“This particular one is oleophilic or oil-loving,” Schiraldi said. “Chemically, it hates water, loves oil: the perfect combination.”

The aeorgel can be made in granular form, in sheets or in blocks of almost any shape and is effective in fresh and saltwater or on a surface. Because absorption is a physical phenomenon, there is no chemical reaction between the material and oil. If the oil is otherwise not contaminated, it can be used.

Oil spill experts on both coasts say that the ability to squeeze out and conserve the oil is an advantage over other products currently available.

Although I haven’t found any post-BP spill comments from Schiraldi, his group back in February predicted that the aeroclay would “effectively clean up spills of all kinds of oils and solvents on factory floors and roadways, rivers and oceans.”

CWRU says it has granted a nine-month exclusive license for this and other clay-based aerogel technologies to Aeroclay Inc., a company in which Schiraldi will be chief scientific officer.

Here is a bonus video featuring Schiraldi talking about his work: