30/Aug/2014 - Last News Update: 13:01

Microsubmarines could clean oil spills, researchers say

Category: Technology

Published: 3rd May 2012 18:58:31

Tiny submarines that are 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair could be used to clean up oil spills, researchers have suggested.

The self-propelled microsubmarines are able to gather oil droplets and take them to collection facilities.

The team from the University of California San Diego's nano-engineering department said their tests showed "great promise".

Similar technology is able to deliver drugs through a person's bloodstream.

The research, which appeared in journal ACS Nano, suggested that the microsubmarines were capable of "a facile, rapid and highly efficient collection" of motor and olive oil droplets.

The tiny motors are propelled by bubbles created from internal oxidation of hydrogen peroxide.

This means they require small amounts of fuel and can move very quickly.

Although currently just a lab-based proof of concept, it gives hope to improved methods of dealing with future spill disasters - a requirement made more pressing following painstaking attempts to deal with spills in the Gulf of Mexico.

"This is the first example of using nanomachines for environmental remediation," lead researcher Joseph Wang told the BBC.

"We had earlier developed self-propelled nanomachines.

"Here, we coated them with a superhydrophobic layer that offers strong 'on-the-fly' interaction with oil droplets."

Superhydrophobic materials are designed to be extremely hard to make wet, while also able to absorb oil effectively.

Last year, researchers at Penn State University demonstrated micromachines capable of bringing drugs to certain areas of the body via the bloodstream.

The research drew humorous parallels with 1960s science fiction film Fantastic Voyage in which a submarine and its crew are shrunk in order to get into the bloodstream of a key informant.

BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2012. Microsubmarines could clean oil spills, researchers say [Online] (Updated 3rd May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1426371/Microsubmarines-could-clean-oil-spills-researchers-say [Accessed 30th Aug 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • MSN Messenger to end after 15 years

    Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger will be switched off in China in October, marking a final end to the 15-year-old service.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Co-op Group members to cast crucial vote on company reforms

    Members of the troubled Co-operative Group are due to meet for a final vote on reforming how the business is run.
  • Ebola: Experimental drug ZMapp is '100% effective' in animal trials

    The only clinical trial data on the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp shows it is 100% effective in monkey studies, even in later stages of the infection.
  • Woman must pay £800 for dumping rubbish in Llanelli

    A woman has been ordered to pay £860 for dumping a bag of rubbish at a recycling bank in Llanelli.
  • Victorian Strangeness: The pig singing competition

    Cheer/groan (delete according to mindset): The X Factor is back. Author Jeremy Clay tells the story of the show's Victorian forebear, where the hopefuls had to sing while carrying a pig.