AEC Systems produces a variety of parts washers designed to clean anything to specification, so our business depends on cleaning technology. For our purposes we concentrate on how to most effectively remove dirt, grease, swarf, and any other pollutants from items made of metal, plastic, and other materials. These include things like aircraft wheels, engine blocks, 55-gallon drums, locomotive crankcases, steel mill bearings, transmissions, and wind turbine gearboxes. In an effort to design parts washers that produce minimal waste during their processes – as close to zero waste as possible – we are also interested in advances in technology like environmentally friendly products like the washer washer.
Given this, the technology Deakin University announced recently is fascinating. Scientists at Deakin have produced a new material that can be used to soak up large amounts of oil like what is produced from a major oil spill. This material acts performs like a literal sponge for oils and solvents and is a breakthrough in water remediation.
Professor Ying Chen said that because oil spills are common in Australia, where Deakin is located, they had greater incentive to create a material that would minimize the devastating impact an oil spill can have on both aquatic and land ecosystems. It can take decades for an area to return to its previous function after an environmental disaster. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil out into Prince William Sound, and many Alaska beaches remain polluted even today. Exxon, in fact, is still involved in court cases. For the sake of environment and business, it’s imperative that we find better solutions that can be applied in situ and immediately.
The material Deakin has produced is a boron nitride nanosheet and “is made up of flakes which are just several nanometers in thickness with tiny holes which can increase its surface area per gram to effectively the size of 5.5 tennis courts.” The original substance Deakin scientists produced was white graphite, a powder, and the challenge was to turn that powder into a sponge that would absorb oil and organic solvents. In addition to absorbing up to 33 times their own weight, these nanosheets do not burn, can withstand flame, and can be used in flexible and transparent electrical and heat insulation.
Every day scientists and engineers test the limits of what science can do to improve our lives and push back our current limitations. Some of the breakthroughs they have made will allow us to repair the damage (and unintended consequences) of earlier innovations and inventions. They will also trickle down into everyday applications like the parts washers AEC manufactures. It is exciting to see these discoveries as they are made.