3D Printed Microstructures to Clean Oil Spills in Ocean

3D-Printed-Microstructures-to-Clean-Oil-Spills-in-Ocean

Scientists mimicked the design of floating fern called Salvinia molesta with hydrophobic properties to separate oil from water in case of oil spills

Oil spills are major concern in water pollution which requires immediate attention as they can destroy aquatic environment of the ocean. Team of researchers from the University of Southern California have turned to the leaves of a floating fern called Salvinia molesta, which have strange eggbeater-shaped protrusions. The unusual shape of these leaves makes them super-hydrophobic, which has ability of repelling water. The study aims to develop a materials inspired from these leaves to Separate oil from water, resulting in more efficient oil spill cleanups. The study was published in the journal Advanced Materials on April 2, 2018.

To re-create the complex structures Chen and his team used an advanced technique called immersed surface accumulation 3D printing to develop the array of microstructures that have both super-hydrophobic and oil-absorbing properties. These forces can efficiently separate oil from water to clean up vast areas on contaminated ocean. “In our work, super-hydrophobic, micro-scale artificial hairs with eggbeater heads inspired by the Salvinia molesta leaf were fabricated by a new three-dimensional printing process,” said Yong Chen, a USC engineer who led the research. “We are the first to build this eggbeater structure, at the same size as in nature, by using 3D-printing technology.”

Currently researchers developed a small prototype demonstrating the eggbeater structures. Furthermore, they are working on increasing the size of structure to treat oceans contaminated by oil spills. “Eventually, the technology can be applied to manufacture materials in large scale and accommodate massive oil spills in the ocean,” Chen said. “The ‘Salvinia effect’ also has the potential for liquid-handling technology that executes micro-droplet manipulation, a breakthrough where the adhesion of liquid to a robotic arm can be tuned accordingly and result in the efficient transfer for tiny amounts of liquid and 3D cell culture.”

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