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Applied Clay Science
Vol. 201, 2020, 105917

Developing buoyant and biocompatible nanoclays for the removal of hydrocarbon pollution from aqueous systems

L.N.Warr, C.Podlech, J.Kandler, M.Peltz

Institute of Geography and Geology, University of Greifswald, Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Str. 17A, D-17487 Greifswald, Germany.


There is a current need to develop buoyant and biocompatible nanoclays for removing oil pollution from the surface waters of rivers, lakes and oceans. Application of clay-based amendments should either aid dispersion, adsorption or biodegradation of hydrocarbons without introducing additional toxicity. Ultrathin (< 15 Ám thick) nanoclay films of low density, in the form of cm-sized clay flakes, represent promising materials for enhancing all three of these remediating mechanisms. In this experimental microcosm study using brackish Baltic seawater and crude oil (MC252), smectite-talc mineral flakes were tested and compared against smectite-organoclay and smectite based mixtures. All three types of clay flake initially adsorbed significant volumes of oil before sinking with < 10% of the original hydrocarbon remaining at the surface after 5 weeks of experimentation. Contact with the clay flakes furthermore increased oil droplet formation at the mineral-hydrocarbon interface and promoted detachment and dispersion of the oil phase. The presence of fertilizing agents (N, P, K) in the flakes also stimulated microbial activity within the brackish oil-contaminated water by up to 162% compared to control experiments. Due to their long period of flotation and attachment to the oil before sinkage, the smectite-talc flakes are considered to be the more favourable mixture despite being the least successful at stimulating microbial activity. Experiments indicate flotation times will be notably longer in more saline waters compared to brackish or freshwater systems due to the higher density and surface tension of saltwater. Although further improvements are required to enhance buoyancy, the use of potentially recoverable thinly filmed clay mineral flakes represents an important step in the application of eco-friendly nanoclay additives for cleaning up oil spills in aqueous systems.

Keywords:Clay minerals; Remediation; Crude oil; Pollution; Baltic sea; Brackish water.

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