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High-throughput clean-up of viscous oil spills enabled by a gel-coated mesh filter


Crude oil spills, resulting from transportation, drilling or accident, are a severe threat to the aqueous environment. However, crude oil with high viscosity makes the clean-up of oil spills a global challenge in practice because highly viscous oil has low fluidity, making it hard to separate and recover. Here we demonstrate a gel-coated superhydrophobic and oleophilic mesh filter coupled with induction-heating strategy for high-throughput clean-up of viscous oil spill. The direct silane treatment of polyaniline gel with covalent reaction endows the material with robust superwetting properties, which enables the mesh filter to have a high viscous oil separation flux of 2.43 l m−2 s−1. An oil-collecting roller prototype is developed for the recovery of viscous oil spills through the reversibly interfacial process of oil collection and filtration. The continuous clean-up and recovery of viscous oil spills are simultaneously achieved with a high oil recovery rate of up to 1,400.6 kg m−2 h−1 and a separation efficiency of 99%. This work provides a powerful tool for efficient and high-throughput clean-up of highly viscous oil spills, paving the way to better management of the damage from oil spills.

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Fig. 1: Schematic illustration of induction-heating-assisted GSSM roller arrays and design for reversible interfacial process.
Fig. 2: Characterization of GSSM and PAni/OTS coatings.
Fig. 3: Viscosity control for oil/water separation.
Fig. 4: Mesh roller design and oil adhesion property.
Fig. 5: Oil clean-up performance and recovery rate optimization.

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The authors declare that the data supporting the findings of this study are included within the paper and its Supplementary Information.


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G.Y. acknowledges financial support from Welch Foundation F-1861, Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research and Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. L.P. and Y.S. acknowledge the support of the Natural Science Foundation of China under grant nos. 61825403 and 61921005 and National Key Research and Development Program of China under grant no. 2021 YFA1401103. We would also like to thank K. Mohanty at the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, University of Texas at Austin, for providing crude oil.

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Authors and Affiliations



G.Y., L.P. and Y.S. supervised the project. K.Y., F.Z., L.P. and G.Y. conceived and designed the experiments. K.Y., F.Z. and Y.J. performed the experiments. K.Y., L.P., Y.S. and G.Y. co-wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Lijia Pan, Yi Shi or Guihua Yu.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Jianmei Lu, Paul Braun and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Figs. 1–25 and Tables 1–5.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

Superhydrophobic and oleophilic properties of the GSSM.

Supplementary Video 2

Simulation of the gravity-driven separation process of the water-in-oil emulsion by the GSSM.

Supplementary Video 3

Simulation of the dynamic oil penetration process through the GSSM with different heating temperatures.

Supplementary Video 4

Continuous oil clean-up and recovery process by the oil-collecting prototype device.

Supplementary Video 5

The temperature gradient of the induction-heated GSSM roller in the working process by thermal imaging.

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Yan, K., Zhao, F., Pan, L. et al. High-throughput clean-up of viscous oil spills enabled by a gel-coated mesh filter. Nat Sustain 6, 1654–1662 (2023).

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