Technology Tuesday: Graphene roped in for fight against oil spills

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Oil spill responders have a new weapon in the fight to clean up hydrocarbon spills – graphene.

The firm behind the new mobile decontamination unit are confident it could be used in the North Sea.

Italian firm Directa Plus has commercially launched its mobile Grafysorber decontamination unit, the world’s first graphene-based system for tackling oil spills.

The unit has already field tested the unit in Romania and Italy with encouraging results and sold its first three units to Italian firm Biocart.

Directa chief executive Giulio Cesareo, said: “Due to the mobile nature of the unit, it can be stored nearer to an area where an event may occur, thereby reducing the time and costs ordinarily associated with the transportation of a solution.”

The Grafysorber contains a proprietary and patented plasma machine that is able to produce on site all the absorbent graphene material needed to clean up water contaminated with hydrocarbons. As it is a mobile unit, it can be quickly deployed to the site of the spill.

The ability to produce the graphene on site and in the right quantity renders it a very cost-effective solution compared with conventional solutions, according to Directa.

During 2015, two industrial remediation activities have been carried out with Grafysorber, treating approximately 35,000m3 of water contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.

Less than 5g/m3 of Grafysorber were able to remove the hydrocarbon contaminants, reducing the concentration from 550mg/l to a safe level of approximately 0.5mg/l, with a significant cost reduction of 50-60% compared with traditional technologies.

Grafysorber is a sustainable product as it enables the recovery and recycling of the adsorbed oils; it is recyclable; and it does not contain any toxic substances.

It has recently received approval from the Ministry of Environment in Italy and in Romania.

“The ability of the Grafysorber unit to produce all the graphene necessary to purify the contaminated water directly at the site of use can be easily replicated and applied to other emergency scenarios.

The initial demand that we have already received for this product provides further evidence that graphene has left the laboratory and is ready for mass adoption,” added Cesareo.

Directa opened Europe’s largest graphene nanoplatelets industrial production unit, based on patented technology.

Graphene was developed by Nobel prizewinning scientists at University of Manchester.

It is ultra-light yet immensely tough, 200 times stronger than steel, but it is incredibly flexible.It is the thinnest material possible as well as being transparent.