Oil-spill Cleanup Material: Coal Fly Ash

A team of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Central Florida is transforming fly ash--a waste product from coal-fired power plants--into an environmentally friendly adsorbent for oil-spill cleanup.

Researchers hope this material will be an economical alternative to current methods of soaking up oil at clean-up sites. At the same time, it could potentially reduce the amount of fly-ash waste in landfills.

Tens of millions of gallons of oil are spilled into the environment every year from human activities. At the same time, tens of millions of tons of fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion, are disposed of in landfills. Fly ash, consisting of tiny spherical ceramic particles, is a poor oil sorbent. The researchers have found a simple chemical process that transforms these smooth billiard-ball-like particles into a highly porous, nanostructured material that repels water and soaks up oil. Once saturated with oil, the powder can be recycled back to power plants as fuel.

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