Research News

This Solar-Powered Nano-Net Transforms Oil Spills

A small oil spill can quickly contaminate a much larger body of water, highlighting one of the most vulnerable aspects of our water resources and their close relationship to energy. Improvements in sensing technology help us detect and monitor accidents, but what can we do after a spill to minimize the damage?

Pelagia-Irene (Perena) Gouma, a materials scientist at the State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook, created a novel “nanogrid,” a large, floating net made of special photocatalysts — a combination of metals that, when activated by sunlight, can break down oil from a spill, leaving only biodegradable compounds behind.

nanogridNanogrids before (left) and after (right) reaction with chemical contaminants in water. The nanoscale fibers that make up the grid provide an incredible reactive surface area that continues working despite being covered by biodegradable compounds. Credit: Pelagia-Irene Gouma, SUNY Stony Brook.

The smaller the individual fibers in the floating net, the more surface area it has to react with sunlight and oil. Measured in nanometers, one billion times smaller than a meter, the fibers in the grid are engineered to be the smallest possible through advanced manufacturing techniques.

Once deployed, the nanogrid works on its own. Conventional methods to absorb oil require the additional steps of retrieval, continual replacement until the entire spill is remediated, and disposal into a landfill. Gouma’s next steps for research include floating nanogrids that, instead of cleaning up oil spills, convert solar energy to chemical energy by splitting water molecules. By combing different grid configurations and component fibers with the right material properties, these innovative structures could turn any pool of water into a hydrogen power plant.

Learn more about the future of clean water technology in NSF’s special report.


ECO Magazine is a marine science trade publication committed to bringing scientists and professionals the latest ground-breaking research, industry news, and job opportunities from around the world.


8502 SW Kansas Ave
Stuart, FL 34997

Newsletter Signup

The ECO Newsletter is a weekly email featuring the Top 10 stories of the past seven days, providing readers with a convenient way to stay abreast on the latest ocean science and industry news.