Novel solution to oil spill recovery: Using thermodegradable polyolefin oil superabsorbent polymer (Oil-SAP)

Xuepei Yuan, T. C.Mike Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


This paper discusses a novel approach that may provide a complete solution to combating oil spills. The technology is centered on a cross-linked polyolefin terpolymer (x-OS-DVB), containing 1-octene, styrene, and divinylbenzene units, which is an oil superabsorbent polymer (oil-SAP) with aliphatic and aromatic side chains that have similar solubility parameters (oleophilic and hydrophobic properties), with the hydrocarbons in crude oil. Some x-OS-DVB terpolymers, with desirable morphology (amorphous, low T g, and high free volume) and lightly cross-linked (complete network) structure, show rapid oil absorption and swelling to reach a capacity 45 times their weight. The capacity of oil uptake (swelling) is inversely proportional to the cross-linking density. The combination of selective oil absorption (without water) and tough mechanical strength offers buoyancy, stability, and easy recovery on water surfaces. The recovered oil-swelled gel, containing more than 98% oil and 2% x-OS-DVB, is suitable for regular oil-refining processes (an economic, no waste, and no pollutant approach). The bulk side chains in x-OS-DVB result in a relatively low ceiling temperature for depolymerization and zero heating residue at 450 °C, well below the first distillation step (>600 °C) in oil refining. Furthermore, polyolefins are the most inexpensive polymeric material, with a large production capability around the world. Overall, this cost-effective new polyolefin oil-SAP technology shall dramatically reduce the environmental impacts from oil spills and help recover one of our most precious natural resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4896-4902
Number of pages7
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 16 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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