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ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2016 Jan 13;8(1):215-24. doi: 10.1021/acsami.5b08439. Epub 2015 Dec 24.

Flexible, Mechanically Durable Aerogel Composites for Oil Capture and Recovery.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Hudson Hall, Duke University , Durham, North Carolina 27707, United States.
Aerogel Technologies, LLC , Boston, Massachusetts 02127, United States.
Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Mason Laboratory, Yale University , New Haven, Connecticut 06511, United States.


More than 30 years separate the two largest oil spills in North American history (the Ixtoc I and Macondo well blowouts), yet the responses to both disasters were nearly identical in spite of advanced material innovation during the same time period. Novel, mechanically durable sorbents could enable (a) sorbent use in the open ocean, (b) automated deployment to minimize workforce exposure to toxic chemicals, and (c) mechanical recovery of spilled oils. Here, we explore the use of two mechanically durable, low-density (0.1-0.2 g cm(-3)), highly porous (85-99% porosity), hydrophobic (water contact angles >120°), flexible aerogel composite blankets as sorbent materials for automated oil capture and recovery: Cabot Thermal Wrap (TW) and Aspen Aerogels Spaceloft (SL). Uptake of crude oils (Iraq and Sweet Bryan Mound oils) was 8.0 ± 0.1 and 6.5 ± 0.3 g g(-1) for SL and 14.0 ± 0.1 and 12.2 ± 0.1 g g(-1) for TW, respectively, nearly twice as high as similar polyurethane- and polypropylene-based devices. Compound-specific uptake experiments and discrimination against water uptake suggested an adsorption-influenced sorption mechanism. Consistent with that mechanism, chemical extraction oil recoveries were 95 ± 2 (SL) and 90 ± 2% (TW), but this is an undesirable extraction route in decentralized oil cleanup efforts. In contrast, mechanical extraction routes are favorable, and a modest compression force (38 N) yielded 44.7 ± 0.5% initially to 42.0 ± 0.4% over 10 reuse cycles for SL and initially 55.0 ± 0.1% for TW, degrading to 30.0 ± 0.2% by the end of 10 cycles. The mechanical integrity of SL deteriorated substantially (800 ± 200 to 80 ± 30 kPa), whereas TW was more robust (380 ± 80 to 700 ± 100 kPa) over 10 uptake-and-compression extraction cycles.


aerogel blanket; mechanical extraction; oil remediation; oil sorbent; polyurethane foam


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