White Graphene: The New Supermaterial That Sucks Up Pollution

There's a new supermaterial in town, and while it might be known as white graphene, it doesn't contain a single atom of carbon. But that doesn't make the new form of boron nitride any less useful—because it can suck chemicals and oil out of contaminated water in a jiffy.

Like its namesake, this form of boron nitride assumes a flat, hexagonally bonded structure, where its constituent atoms are laid out in large sheets. But while scientists first thought it might be useful in electronics, it turns out that in its nano form it's a highly efficient system for gathering pollutants.

Research published in Nature Communications shows that white graphene absorbs all kinds of organic pollutants—like industrial chemicals and engine oil—but can be cleaned and reused more easily than other nanomaterials that have been suggested for similar uses in the past. The secret to the material's success lies in its porous structure, which allows it to easily soak up contaminants.

In fact, the material can absorb up to 29 times its own weight in engine oil—but remains able to float on water, even when completely saturated. The material could, then, be dumped in a contaminated river, left to do its work, then easily recovered. To clean it, all that's required is a blast in a furnace to drive out the pollutants.

What remains to be seen, though, is whether the stuff can be made cheaply enough in bulk to make it a practical solution for cleaning up waterways. We hope so. [Nature Communications via BBC]

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