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Gels from waste paper help to recover spilt oil

Scientists have converted paper waste into green cellulose aerogels that are non-toxic, ultra-light, flexible, strong and water repellent.

The material is ideal for applications such as oil spill cleaning, heat insulation and packaging, and it can potentially be used as coating materials for drug delivery and as smart materials for biomedical applications, researchers said.

Duong Hai from the National University of Singapore, says: “Our team developed a cost-effective and fast method of converting paper waste into aerogels.

“Our fabrication process uses 70% less energy, produces fewer polluting emissions, as well as using less dioxins in the chlorine bleaching process. It is also faster – the entire process takes only three days.

“These aerogels have a super-high oil absorption capacity – they can be squeezed to recover more than 99% of the crude oil absorbed.”

The aerogels could also signal a change in the packaging industry. Plastic-based packaging materials such as bubble wrap could be replaced with biodegradable aerogel-based foam or advanced cellulose aerogel nanosheets.

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