Space & Innovation

Magnets Could Clean Up Oil Spills

Putting tiny iron oxide particles into oil spills could make them much easier to remove from the ocean.

Offshore oil spills can take a tremendous toll upon sea birds, dolphins, turtles and other aquatic creatures, and cleaning up the mess and saving animals can be costly and difficult.

But Australian and Chinese researchers have come up with a new method for removing oil from the water that could make it a lot easier.

RELATED: Harm Caused to Wildlife by California Oil Spil

Scientists at the University of Wollongong in Australia and Beihang University in China have developed nanoscale magnetic particles, which would be dispersed in the water during an oil spill. The particles would bond with the oil, creating a magnetic liquid that can be pushed or driven with a simple magnet.

The nanoparticles are non-toxic and re-sable, as well as being cheap and easy to produce, according to a UOW press release. It would take as little as two-thirds of an ounce of the nanoparticles to remove a barrel of oil from a slick, based upon numbers provided by UOW.

"If you think of a lubricant that many people have in their garage, such WD40, we know that it sticks very well to surfaces it's sprayed on because it has very good bonding chemistry," said Yi Du, a research fellow at UOW's Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials.

RELATED: Years Later, Oil from BP Spill Still Coating Gulf Seafloor

The technology also would have the advantage of working on oil that sinks below the surface, which at present is a major problem for cleanup crews. The nanoparticles also would sink to the bottom.

The same technology also would work for cleaning up land-based spills.

The researchers' findings were published recently in the American Chemical Society journal, ACSNano.

WATCH VIDEO: How Do We Clean Up Oil Spills?