Enhancing the mechanical strength of a hydrophobic hybrid foam for practical use in remediation of oil-spills in the environment

Study level

Master of Philosophy
Vacation research experience scheme


There have been more than 700 oil spills worldwide in the past 20 years, polluting oceans, and coastlines as well as endangering marine ecology and other wildlife.
Skimming and burning are two methods commonly used for remediation of oil-spills. They are effective for thick, sticky oil layers but powerless to the highly spreading oil films because these films are too thin to be skimmed or keep burning. Dispersion is often employed in this situation, by which surfactants are spread to disperse the oil into small drops so that they can be decomposed naturally over time. However, this method usually causes secondary pollution to oceans and puts marine creatures in danger.

Research Activities

In our previous work, we reported a hybrid foam that consists of Al2O3 nanofibers and stearic acid showing excellent performance on thin oil film absorption. However, a limitation on the practical use of the material is its brittleness, which makes it fragile in the rough sea, and increases the difficulty in transportation and recycle.
This project aims to improve the mechanical strength of the hybrid foam for practice use through bonding adjacent Al2O3 nanofibers. The challenge of this project is to maintain the surface properties of the material during the bonding process.


This hybrid foam could be a promising material for oil spill clean-up at sea once its mechanical strength is improved. The low cost for preparation, non-toxic to animals and plants, and renewability of the material further highlight its great potential for practical application.

Skills and experience

Background in chemistry, physics, materials, mechanical engineering all are welcome.

External collaborator

Dr Haolan Xu - University of South Australia