Technology Breakthrough: 'Nano-Sponge' Cleans Up Rainwater Runoff




Winner of 2011 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award

“We’ve all seen the oily rainbow sheen in parking lot puddles after a storm. But it’s easy to forget what happens next: That oil finds its way to a storm drainage system, where it’s likely to be flushed untreated into local waterways,” writes Sarah Fecht in an article published by Popular Mechanics.

The article describes a revolutionary nanoparticle product that cleans rainwater runoff. Developed for oil spill removal, it has been successfully tested in a rain garden at the College of Wooster in Ohio. Invented by Dr. Paul Edmiston, ‘Osorb’ soaks up non-polar molecules and can remove 90 to 100 percent of water pollutants. A small percentage of Osorb is mixed in with the soil and plants.

Dr. Edmiston is using a rain garden at the College of Wooster to test the effectiveness of Osorb in treating rainwater runoff from an adjacent parking lot.


How Does ‘Osorb’ Work?

“When ‘Osorb’ comes into contact with oil or other water-hating (nonpolar) chemicals, such as oils, fats and other hydrocarbons, its stacks of benzene-silicon plates expand like an accordion to absorb the contaminants,” explains Paul Edmiston.

A graduate student of Edmiston’s stumbled upon the material while experimenting with molecules for a bomb-detection device.

“Each gram of material can hold up to eight times its own weight. Because electrically charged liquids, like water, don’t interact with Osorb, the contaminated material can easily be filtered out of it, making Osorb an ideal candidate for cleaning up all kinds of water pollution.” 

“We can’t build a pipe to every parking lot and agricultural field, but if we can take a small amount of space and turn it into green infrastructure, we can treat the water on-site and percolate it into groundwater cleanly.”


To Learn More:

To read the complete article in Popular Mechanics, click on Nano-Sponge Cleans Up Water Runoff. To download a copy, click here.

Paul Edmiston’s areas of research are advanced materials for water purification usign swellable glass; development of chemical sensors based on molecularly imprinted materials. (There is an article in the Wooster Magazine Summer 2009 about Paul’s research.)

In 2011, he was one of 11 recipients of a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award. This award honors innovators whose work will transform the world in years to come.