One of the major forms of pollution is oil spills. According to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, approximately 5.73 million tons of oil were spilled due to tanker accidents between 1970 and 2016. Oil is toxic to living organisms and causes major damage to marine species, inhibition of vegetation at the shoreline, and many more adverse effects.
Cleaning up oil spills is time-consuming and expensive. There are a lot of factors to consider, such as processing and disposal of the oil and positioning the cleanup equipment. Thus, there is a need for a low-cost cleanup method.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed one such method. They were able to synthesize a low-cost membrane made from a copper mesh that effectively separates oil and water. Connecting the membrane to an alkaline battery allows for the surface structure of the mesh to change, switching from hydrophilic to hydrophobic states on demand. In contrast to other synthesized membranes, this material contains no toxic coatings, making it a potentially efficient cleanup tool on the industrial scale.