UCF research team wins EPA award for new oil-spill technology

UCF research students used this boat to display their oil spill technology at the conference. The students were awarded funding from the EPA to continue to develop their project. 

Students at UCF received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Award for their research on technology that could help clean waterways after an oil spill.

The proposed solution includes the use of high-tech sponges soaked in a black substance known as superhydrophobic MoS2. The sponge soaks up oil, but leaves the water behind. When the sponge is attached to tubes on a boat, the oil is sucked out of the water. After the oil is removed from the water, it can be re-used.

This solution would lead to less manpower needed and less toxins released during cleanup.

“Oil spills are a thing that's unfortunately going to happen, and this is a sustainable solution to that problem,” said Kelsey Rodriguez, a junior environmental engineering major who is a member of the research team.

Woo Hyoung Lee, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering, is overseeing the project. He said he gave the students the idea for the project, but they did most of the work.

The team is made up of more than 10 volunteers from different disciplines who either reached out to Lee to show interest or were in one of his classes.

The project was one of 31 which won the award for focusing on sustainability and received funding from the EPA. The win allowed seven students to go to the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington D.C., one of the largest sustainability conferences in the country.

“It is an incredible feeling knowing that people see a lot of value in our research and know that this is something that can help people and the environment," said Dianne Mercado, a junior biotechnology major who has been involved with the research for almost three years. "It is really rewarding.”

The group is moving into phase two of the project and will be sending in a proposal that suggests how to make this solution commercially available. If the proposal is approved, they will receive more funding from the EPA.

If the technology becomes available, Mercado said she is excited to see how all the hard work positively impacts the community.

“We want to keep our water bodies clean," Mercado said. "We want to make sure you know people benefit from our research, and being so close and knowing that yes, we can do this — it is an amazing feeling."

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