Materials Science

Safe Sopping

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Science  25 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6182, pp. 340
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6182.340-c

Cleaning up oil or an industrial solvent after a spill is complicated by the danger that the combustible liquid might catch fire. Ruan et al. sought to minimize this risk by taking advantage of the flame-retardant properties of melamine. By sequentially immersing a commercial melamine-formaldehyde sponge in solutions of dopamine and then fluoroalkyl thiols, they rendered the porous material superhydrophobic. A series of tests showcased the sorption properties of the modified sponge: efficient uptake (on the order of 100 times its weight) of common solvents as well as crude oil, followed by recovery through mechanical squeezing. The material proved resilient to cycling 100 times, as well as an hour's worth of heating to 200°C or cooling by liquid nitrogen. In a comparison with a polypropylene-based sorbent, it also showed substantially greater resistance to combustion. The authors suggest that the simplicity of the synthetic protocol bodes well for possible scale-up manufacturing.

Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 53, 10.1002/anie.201400775 (2014).

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