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Cleaning oil spills with paper waste Researchers from the National University

therefore serve as an attractive alternative

of Singapore (NUS) have converted paper

to current methods of oil spill cleaning,

waste into green cellulose aerogels that

which has a potential market size of

are non-toxic, ultralight, flexible, strong and

US$143.5 billion.”

water repellent. The material is suitable for

The aerogels could also serve as

oil spill cleaning, heat insulation, packaging,

insulation materials for buildings, with their

drug delivery and more.

absorbency and water-repellent properties

The leader of the team, Assistant

making them a suitable alternative to

Professor Duong Hai Minh, described

energy-guzzling air conditioners. According

aerogels as “one of the finest insulation

to Assistant Professor Duong, the aerogels

materials available”. Traditional aerogels

are adaptable to both dry and rainy weather

are made from silica, which is not

and their structure remains stable for about

environmentally friendly, so the NUS

six months in a tropical climate.

team set out to create the material from

“Being extremely strong, they increase

low-cost cellulose, which is made up of

building strength,” he continued. “In addition,

75–85% of recycled paper.

these aerogels are lightweight and slim,

“Our team developed a simple, cost-

resulting in slimmer walls, thus increasing

effective and fast method of converting

building space.”

paper waste into aerogels,” said Assistant

Other potential applications include:

Professor Duong.

• the packing industry, with plastic-based

“Our fabrication process uses 70% less

times their dry weight, making them up to

packing materials such as the bubble

energy, produces fewer polluting emissions

four times more effective than commercial oil

wrap to be replaced with biodegradable

into the air and water, as well as uses

sorbents. Furthermore, they can be squeezed

aerogel-based foam or nanosheets;

fewer dioxins in the chlorine bleaching

to recover over 99% of the crude oil absorbed.

• hygiene, with the absorption capabilities

process. It is also faster — the entire

“Sorption has been considered one of the

of MTMS-uncoated aerogels suitable for

most effective ways to clean oil spills,” said

products such as nappies and sanitary

process only takes three days.” The aerogels also have a super-

Assistant Professor Duong. “Polypropylene

high oil absorption capacity. Coated with

(PP)-based absorbents are widely used for oil

napkins; and

Trimethoxy-methylsilane (MTMS), they

absorption, but they are non-biodegradable,

compressed cellulose aerogels able

are water repellent and are capable of

and their absorption capabilities are both

to plug life-threatening wounds such

absorbing oil (excluding water) up to 90

low and slow. Our novel cellulose aerogels

as gunshots.

• the

biomedical

industry,

with

Detecting nitrogen dioxide Australian and Chinese researchers have developed a low-cost

Academy of Sciences, that is exactly what he has created. “The

and reliable method of detecting nitrogen dioxide (NO 2) — an

method we have developed is not only more cost effective, it

air pollutant that contributes to more than seven million deaths

also works better than the sensors currently used to detect this

worldwide each year.

dangerous gas.”

Nitrogen dioxide increases the risk of respiratory disorders in

The team created their sensors by transforming tin disulfide

children and can severely affect the elderly. The main contributors

(SnS2) — a yellowish-brown pigment generally used in varnish for

of the gas are the burning of fossil fuels — particularly in coal-fired

gilding — into flakes just a few atoms thick. The large surface area

power stations and diesel engines, which can impact on the health

of these flakes has a high affinity to nitrogen dioxide molecules.

of people in urban areas. Furthermore, there are still significant

The sensors operate by physically absorbing nitrogen dioxide

challenges for NO2 sensing at low detection limits — especially

gas molecules. Not only do they increase the level of sensitivity

in the presence of other interfering gases.

to accepted EPA standards, but they are said to outperform any

“A lack of public access to effective monitoring tools is a

other nitrogen dioxide sensing solutions on the market. “The device

major roadblock to mitigating the harmful effects of this gas

shows high sensitivity and superior selectivity to NO2 at operating

— but current sensing systems are either very expensive or

temperatures of less than 160°C, which are well below those of

have serious difficulty distinguishing it from other gases,” said

chemisorptive and ion conductive NO2 sensors with much poorer

Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, from RMIT University’s Centre

selectivity,” the researchers said in the journal ACS Nano. “At the

for Advanced Electronics and Sensors. Professor Kalantar-zadeh

same time, excellent reversibility of the sensor is demonstrated,

said the negative impact of NO2 could be prevented by access to

which has rarely been observed in other 2D material counterparts.”

personalised, selective, sensitive and reliable monitoring systems

“The revolutionary method we’ve developed is a great start to

that could detect harmful levels of the gas early. With the help

creating a handheld, low-cost and personalised NO2 sensor that can

of fellow RMIT researchers and colleagues from the Chinese

even be incorporated into smartphones,” Kalantar-zadeh concluded.

32 Sustainability Matters - Jun/Jul 2016

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Sustainability Matters Jun/Jul 2016  

Sustainability Matters is a bi-monthly magazine showcasing the latest products, technology and sustainable solutions for industry, governmen...

Sustainability Matters Jun/Jul 2016  

Sustainability Matters is a bi-monthly magazine showcasing the latest products, technology and sustainable solutions for industry, governmen...