A team of scientists announced Thursday that they have created a soap capable of cleaning oil spills and other sticky messes.
Researchers at Bristol University in the United Kingdom say they have devised the soap to that it attracts dirty materials rather than simply rinses them away. The team said they achieve the creation of the magnetic soap by dissolving iron-rich salts in water, making it possible to use in large-scale industrial messes and environmental challenges, such as that seen in the Gulf Of Mexico in 2010.
“Normal soap is not magnetic. Just as you said, you can’t control where it goes. Gravity does that, just sucks it down the drain,” said Julian Eastoe, a professor of chemistry at the University of Brisol, in an interview with NPR. “We were making emulsions with lube oil, our magnetic soap, and we were moving them around using magnets. The emulsions can be collected up. It’s amazing.”
To create a magnetic soap, researchers dissolved iron into surfactant materials made of chloride and bromide ions, very similar to those found in some household cleaners. The result was a soap made up of cleansing material surrounding tiny iron nuclei.
These magnetic “scrubbing bubbles” were then tested in a tube with a less-dense organic solution, which floated over the soap. When the researchers introduced a magnet above the test tube, the iron-rich soap overcame both gravity and the surface tension between the water and oil, bubbling up through the organic solution toward the magnet.
The team of scientists said that recent oil spills have shown that there is a need to alternative cleaning methods. History attests to the lingering problem of oil spills. Exxon Valdez, one of the worst oil spills ever, dumped more than 10 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989. A large amount of oil remains in the sound, which has continued to impact wildlife in the area for the past 20 years, experts say.