Oleo Sponge is a reusable sponge that absorbs oil from the water surface and beneath surface in the case of large oil spills.   In recent large oil spills, experts found that oil not only rose to the top of the water to be burned off or controlled in other ways, the oil also formed plumes and traveled beneath the water, sometimes in columnar form.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory scientist, Seth Darling is a co-inventor of the Oleo Sponge.  Seth  Darling is a Scientist with Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials and a Fellow of the University of Chicago's Institute for Molecular Engineering.  Jeff Elam also contributed to the development of the sponge and is a Chemist with Argonne.  Other contributors include Anil Mane, Joseph Libera, Edward Barry all Argonne Scientists.  The research was funded by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The Oleo Sponge is a recent development tested in New Jersey at Ohmsett, the National Oil spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility.  Using Ohmsett's enormous saltwater tank the sponge was able to absorb oil from the water above and below the surface, be squeezed out and re-used dozens of times without diminishing the quality of the sponge.  

The sponge is made from polyurethane foam infused with metal oxide to attract oil molecules.  The sponge also uses hydrophobic materials to repel water.  Based on SIS or sequential infiltration synthesis technology developed by Seth Darling and Jeff Elam the porous sponge pulls oil out of the water using a fine layer of hard metal oxide.   The sponge can be wrung out, reused and oil is recovered in the process.

Cleaning up oil spills such as the Deepwater Horizon accident from 7 years ago was a challenge due to the fact that large volumes of oil surged from the ocean floor and floated through the ocean without rising to the surface where it could be skimmed off the surface.  Molecules existed that could attract the oil, but the molecules needed to be attached to a substance that could aid in the retrieval of the oil and subsequent removal from the water.    Hence, the development of the Oleo (another word for margarine or oil) was developed.

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