How research on new material can help minimize environmental damage

By Karl Kersten - November 8, 2018

In science, efforts are rising exploring options that help minimize environmental damage. To understand how environmental damage can be minimized it is worthwhile to research new materials. We would like to show you an example taken from fiber development to illustrate the possibilities new materials provide. This example is particularly interesting for anyone working in the materials science field.

Oil pollutions and their effects on the surrounding ecosystem

Oil pollutions and their effects on the surrounding ecosystem gain more and more attention. Techniques to separate oil from water range from oil sorbent sponges to skimming to chemical dispersants.. Oil collection via filtering is an attractive way to tackle the issue. Because of their high flexibility, absorption capacity, low density, reasonable prices, and biocompatibility, membranes gain more and more attention.

Rana et. al. (Adv.Mat.Interfaces 2016, 1600128) aimed for modifications of natural cotton fibers — inspired by the biomimetic surfaces of fishes — in a way that nano- and microstructures were altered and the overall hydrophilicity was enhanced. To find more details on treated cotton fabrics you can follow the link to the original article.

Natural cotton fibers consist of fibrils of beta-glucose which spirally twist around the fiber axis. The primary fiber is covered in non-cellulosic components such as wax, pectins and proteins leading to the hydrophobic nature of cotton. Via a hot alkali treatment — which roughens the surfaces of  fibers due to introduction of numerous hydroxyl groups — the material was altered.

material research environmental damage

SEM to research and characterize materials

To observe and characterize the material, a Phenom XL SEM in combination with the 3D roughness reconstruction software was used. Using SEM and other techniques, it could be proved that the new material showed oleophobicity, excellent self-cleaning and antifouling properties. It further proofed a successfully wider separation of commercial oil products from oil-water mixtures with more than 99% oil rejection. In summary, this could be a big step towards new materials and solutions for environmental remediation.

If you would like to learn more about the Phenom XL SEM and the 3D roughness reconstruction software — and how the combination of the two can help you observe and characterize materials — you can read our 3D roughness software specification sheet:

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About the author

Karl Kersten is head of the Thermo Scientific Phenom Desktop SEM Application Team at Thermo Fisher Scientific. He is passionate about the Phenom Desktop SEM product and likes converting customer requirements into product or feature specifications so customers can achieve their goals.

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