Potential use of Hydrophobic Aerogels in future oil spill clean-ups

Hinna Hafeez \ Oceans First, Issue 4, 2017, pgs. 23-27.  Download PDF


For thirty years, oil spill clean up methods did not change until the Deepwater Horizon Spill, the worst marine oil spill in history, occurred in 2010. This notion has motivated scientific advancement of more efficient methods than those used in the Deepwater Horizon Spill. To date, the most notable oil spill clean up method that was used is the dispersant Corexit 9500. This chemical has been found to negatively affect mammalian cells including inducing oxidative stress and premature cell death. It was also found that the oil dispersed by Corexit 9500 remained in the water and continued to affect marine life one year after the spill. Among the proposals for new clean up methods, hydrophobic, low density solids called aerogels are a serious contender for large scale clean ups in the future. Hydrophobic aerogels act as sponges to absorb oil and not water and can remove several types of oils including dispersed and emulsified oil. The oil can be later removed from the gel to be used commercially. However, aerogels are costly and time-consuming to make and have not yet been tested on a large-scale basis. Next steps should include testing aerogels in the ocean and potentially using them to remove remaining dispersed oils caused by the use of Corexit 9500.