In hopes of limiting the disastrous environmental effects of massive oil spills, scientists from Drexel University and Deakin University, in Australia, have teamed up to manufacture and test a new material. The boron nitride nanosheet absorbs up to 33 times its weight in oils and organic solvents — a trait that supports the quick mitigation of costly accidents.

The nanosheet is made up of flakes, which are several nanometers (one billionth of a meter) in thickness and contain tiny holes. The form enables the nanosheet to, in effect, increase its surface area per gram to the size of five and a half tennis courts.

Researchers from Drexel’s College of Engineering helped to study and functionalize the material, which started as boron nitride powder, commonly called “white graphite.” By forming the powder in to atomically thin sheets, the material could be made into a sponge.

Using computational modeling, the Drexel team learned that the boron nitride nanosheets are flame resistant. Such characteristics will allow the technology to also be used in electrical and heat insulation applications.

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