Magnets are good for posting up photos and little reminders on your refrigerator. But can they also be used for cleaning up oil spills on our oceans?

Well the answer to that question may be “Yes,” at least according to researchers at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

Publishing their findings in the highly respected journal “Advanced Functional Materials,” the scientists say they have created a process using functionalized iron oxide particles to adsorb hydrocarbons such as oil.

As reported in the Environmental News Network, these newfangled “functionalized iron oxide particles can attract any types of hydrocarbons … [which] include light compounds such as alkanes and aromates, but also crude oil, petrol and diesel. Such hydrocarbon molecules surround the very fine particles [of iron oxide] as if they are being sucked in and reach a volume that can grow to 14 times the size of the core of the particle.”

Once the hydrocarbons are fattened up and made humungo, they can be easily picked up by magnets in an environmentally-friendly manner and then be reused after being cleaned.

The researchers believe their process is superior to conventional methods of cleaning up oil spills. The reason: Conventional methods simply pour out mixtures into the sea water that allow hydrocarbons to be more easily digested by bacteria, and while this works to a degree, the mixtures remain in the seawater until this process is complete. This sort of lingering around could have more adverse environmental impacts potentially, some believe.

The full report of this FAU study can be read here.


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