According to researchers at Rice University, a sponge made of pure carbon nanotubes with a dash of boron has been developed that can absorb up to 100 times its weight in oil. And, in part due to its extremely low density, this material has demonstrated a remarkable ability to absorb oil spills from the surface of water. After being absorbed, the oil can either be stored in the sponge for later retrieval or burned off, allowing the sponge to be reused.

This was the headline of a paper published on Friday by Nature's Scientific Reports, an open-access online journal. According to the paper's authors, this porous carbon material is elastic, compressible, flexible, and lightweight. It is also hydrophobic and oleophillic - meaning that it "hates the water... and loves the oil." This leads to a potential application in environmental cleanup after oil spills.

The paper's primary author, Rice University graduate student Daniel Hashim, explains the technology in a short video:

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Air Force's Office of Scientific Research MURI Program. Contributing authors hail from around the world, with primary authors from Rice and Penn State Universities.


  1. Daniel P. Hashim, Narayanan T. Narayanan, Jose M. Romo-Herrera, David A. Cullen, Myung Gwan Hahm, Peter Lezzi, Joseph R. Suttle, Doug Kelkhoff, E. Muñoz-Sandoval, Sabyasachi Ganguli, Ajit K. Roy, David J. Smith, Robert Vajtai, Bobby G. Sumpter, Vincent Meunier, Humberto Terrones, Mauricio Terrones, Pulickel M. Ajayan.Covalently bonded three-dimensional carbon nanotube solids via boron induced nanojunctions. Scientific Reports, 2012; 2 DOI: 10.1038/srep00363 [Photos by Mike Williams, Rice University]