Oil Spill: Positive And Negative Implications Of Oleo Sponge

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Oil spills, caused by damaged tankers, pipelines, or offshore oil rigs can cause sudden or long-term environmental damages that can last for years. Some main effects of oil spills are that it kills marine mammals. Oil can clog the blowholes of whales and dolphins, not allowing them to breathe properly and disrupting their ability to communicate. Oil also coats the fur of otters and seals, causing there to be a higher chance of them developing hypothermia. That is why In this project I will be talking about a method that is still being fully developed created by the Argonne lab. It is called the oleo sponge, the sponge which is not only able to soak up oil on the surface of the ocean but as well as oil left underwater.

The Science of a Solution

The oleo sponge is able to soak up oil and other petroleum-based chemicals with ease not only above the surface of the water but also underneath. A single panel of the Oleo Sponge is able to absorb 1.4 gallons of oil and is one hundred percent reusable meaning it drastically reduces waste, products that are recovered by the sponge can also be salvaged for future use. Unlike the chemical dispersants and burning techniques we use these days to get rid of oil, the Oleo sponge is environmentally friendly doing no harm to sea life. Usually, when you have gathered oil from a spill, you burn the absorbent that contains all the oil inside but the beauty of this product is that that is not needed. Popular techniques that are usually used when you have an oil spill is skimming or doing what is called an institute burn. The negative implications about these methods are that in order to skim and burn the oil off the surface of the water, the oil needs to be thick so neither of those is an option when you have a really thin sheen layer of oil however this sponge is able to absorb thick and thin layers.

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The oleo sponge is made out of polyurethane foam (most cushioned furniture is also made out of it). Since polyurethane foam doesn’t soak up oil that well and it also soaks up a lot of water with it, the scientists at the Argonne lab have developed technologies to change the chemistry on the surface of the foam so that it loves oil and hates water. The technique they use to achieve that effect is called sequential infiltration synthesis (SIS). This allows for the synthesis of inorganic materials such as metal oxides within polymers. For the oleo sponge, they use it to introduce suitable binding sites for oil loving compounds allowing the foam to absorb only oil instead of both water and oil.

Positive Implications

There are multiple positive implications for this method, as I stated above, however, some factors that come into play with the oleo sponge are environmental factors. The oleo sponge is environmentally friendly, it does no harm to sea life unlike the chemical dispersants and burning techniques we use today. Dispersants contain harmful toxins of their own and can concentrate leftover oil toxins in the water, where they can kill fish. Dispersants include butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses. Richard Charter stated that “There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil.” Another positive environmental factor is that both the sponge and the oil is 100 percent reusable meaning there is 0 percent waste. This factor is also a positive economic factor since less money will be needed to spend because you are able to reuse the oleo sponge panels.

Negative Implications

When it comes to the oleo sponge there are very few negative implications. However, one of them is that the sponge is still being fully developed and will most likely be in use in the next 5 years, which means we wouldn’t be able to use it when cleaning the oil spill in Lamma island.

A negative economic implication about this method is that if the sponge becomes an effective way of cleaning oil, boom and skimmers, as well as other methods of getting rid of the oil that we use today, will be used much less meaning possible jobs will be lost and the businesses that perform these methods will be less successful and possibly go bankrupt.


In conclusion, I think that this oil spill clean-up method should definitely be used to help clean up the Lamma island spill and others around the world since there are many benefits to this method, it is also the most effective way to clean out oil above and below the surface of the water fast and efficiently. The oleo sponge is better for the environment compared to other techniques used, since the sponge is environmentally friendly doing no harm to the sea life and you are able to reuse the sponge along with the oil collected meaning it saves tons of money and materials, In the US alone 1.3 million gallons of oil gets spilled into our seas, by cleaning up that oil you will be able to make 1,573,000 million USD (12,584,000 HKD) a year since 1 gallon of oil is worth 1.21 USD, just think about how much you would make when it goes worldwide!


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