Glass Powder Absorbs Oil, Waste from Water and Air

NSF-sponsored research at an Ohio college has led to a revolutionary discovery, a new form of silica glass that can absorb and extract large amounts of contaminants from water and air.

The organically modified silica glass (trade name: Osorb TM) absorbs chlorinated solvents and other contaminants and reduces them into harmless by-products. It has been pilot-tested with partners such as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and is now on the commercial market, treating polluted groundwater and water extracted from wells along with oil and gas. Remarkably, Osorb can lift 20,000 times its own weight as it swells.

While testing nano-engineered glasses research into explosives detection, Paul Edmiston and his students serendipitously discovered Osorb, which instantaneously swells up to six times its size in the presence of organic compounds (but not in the presences of water). The absorbed organics can be recovered from the glass with heat, thus making Osorb a reusable sponge for contaminants such as oil, pesticides, solvents and pharmaceuticals. Osorb can be reused repeatedly in this cycle of absorption and recovery.

Osorb's effectiveness in treating "produced" water is especially noteworthy. Produced water is the water that is co-extracted with petroleum and gas and is estimated to be 800 billion gallons in volume per year. Often saturated with hydrocarbons, produced water is difficult to treat, and Osorb is recognized a game-changing technology.

Osorb showed promising results in removing oil from the Gulf of Mexico following the 2010 oil spill.

Edmiston's's company ABSMaterials is partnering with many global oil production companies. Founded in Nov. 2008, it employs 25 people and has raised more than $1.8 million in private capital.

Watch Edmiston demonstrate Osorb on a NSF webcast and on the Popular Mechanics website.

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