Lee, Larive, Valsaraj & Bharti Publish Article in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces

Jin Gyun Lee (ChE PhD candidate), Luke Larive (ChE senior), Kalliat T. Valsaraj (Vice President of Research & Economic Development), and Bhuvnesh Bharti (ChE Assistant Professor) have been at work researching and formulating an ecofriendly alternative to oil spill recovery--and they may have created it.

Binding of Lignin Nanoparticles at Oil–Water Interfaces: An Ecofriendly Alternative to Oil Spill Recovery

Abstract

Photo of oil slick isolation

Synthetic amphiphiles used for managing large-scale oil spills have a toxic impact on the environment and marine life. Developing new oil spill recovery technologies is critical to minimize the environmental and ecological impact of such disasters. Here, we show that a mixture of lignin nanoparticles and 1-pentanol forms a biocompatible alternative to nondegradable, synthetic amphiphiles used for oil spill recovery. The pentanol in the mixture generates initial Marangoni flow and confines the spilled oil into a thick slick on the surface of water. While the alcohol solubilizes, lignin nanoparticles irreversibly adsorb onto the oil–water interface. We find that the lignin nanoparticle adsorption to the oil–water interface is governed by a combination of electrostatic, van der Waals, and hydrophobic interactions between the particles and the interface. These interactions, combined with interparticle electrostatic repulsion between nanoparticles adsorbed at the oil–water interface, drive the formation of a submonolayer. The submonolayer transforms into a film of jammed nanoparticles due to compressive stress acting on the interface upon the solubilization of pentanol. This interfacial layer of lignin nanoparticles restricts oil from respreading and locks the oil in its confined state. The herded state of the oil with the interfacial layer of nanoparticles facilitates safe removal of the spilled oil using mechanical methods. The study presents a new principle of using a mixture of heavy alcohol and biocompatible nanoparticles for oil herding applications, thus providing an ecofriendly alternative to oil spill recovery.

 

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