A next-generation material first initially developed for use in electronics has proven itself a capable oil absorbent for polluted waters. The new material Boron Nitride, or “white graphene”, is similar in structure to its namesake Graphene consisting of a Nano sheet of single bonded atoms laid out like a chain-link fence. A recent research report claims that when these sheets are combined it forms a coarse white powder that can soak up organic pollutants such as industrial chemicals and oil.
Boron Nitride itself is obviously not new to science but when arranged in porous Nano sheets, the white powder vastly outperformed commercially available chunks of boron nitride. In tests the powder soaked up as much as 33 times its own weight in the chemical ethylene glycol and 29 times its own weight of engine oil. Better still the saturated powder also floats on water.
According to the authors of the research these properties make these porous Boron Nitride Nano sheets suitable for a wide range of applications in spill control, water purification and effluent treatment.
The research is an extension of the groundbreaking discovery of Graphene, the most well-known two dimensional nano material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. It is the thinnest material known to man and yet is also one of the strongest. Apparently it would take an elephant standing on a pin to pierce the sheet – not something you can try at home!
As was the case with graphene the key question is whether the stuff can be manufactured commercially at an economic price to challenge existing product technology in this case the tried and tested specialist oil and chemical absorbents currently available. It’s a long and no doubt costly journey from the research lab to the market place but we wish the researchers luck.
The Environment Agency and regional water companies have a statutory responsibility to enforce controls on any business activity that produces waste water generically called “trade effluent” and failure to comply with regulations may result in significant fines to your business. Added to which you have the European Water Framework Directive that was signed into law by all European Union countries in the year 2000. The Directive set an initial time frame for implementation of water improvement frameworks, which had to be operational by the end of 2012, with the detailed objectives being achieved by the end of 2015.
Marinas, commercial and leisure boat operators have a particularly hard time when it comes to compliance given the pollution potential they generate in the normal course of business. Potential sources of pollutants commonly found in many marinas include oil, fuel, boat sewage, toxic metals, solvents, antifreeze, and detergents. As figures show water pollution is on an upward curve the Environment Agency is stepping up its inspections to ensure all marina and boatyard businesses address this problem.
The best way to minimise accidental pollution is to put in place an Environmental Management Plan based on a thorough risk assessment of your business operations. Effective environmental protection is easier if you have a structured documented management plan that the workforce can refer to.
Achieving practical outcomes is based on four stages.
Identify the potential risks and environmental impact
Implement safeguards and controls including staff training and customer awareness.
Check and monitor safeguards regularly to ensure compliance with your management plan
Review your plan and adapt to changing working practices or new risks.
Ensuring environmental safety is often common sense. Siting oil and fuel tanks as far away from water courses as possible is an obvious example but you should also ensure tanks have bunds with sufficient capacity to contain any spillage. Choose spill control products appropriate to the risk and site them in close proximity to the risk. Oil only spill absorbents for example are not effective on water based effluents and no control measures will be effective if they are not readily accessible. Ensure customers, particularly boat owners on your moorings are aware of their responsibilities and know the type and location of spill control provisions available on site. You can also encourage customers to carry their own spill control kits which you can supply.
We all have a responsibility to protect the environment and after all the industry rely on having safe clean waterways to attract more boating enthusiasts.
The Environment Agency has ultimate responsibility to ensure Businesses and individuals comply with the raft of environmental regulations designed to prevent pollution of the air, land and water. With drought conditions in many areas of England pollution of this ever more precious resource from spilled chemicals entering natural water courses, lakes and ground water aquifers is of particular concern.
Despite the regulations many thousands of accidental pollution incidents still occur every year, from manufacturing, agricultural and transport industries and even domestic homes. The Environment Agency is not slow to bring prosecutions but the environmental damage can take years to repair. By taking sensible precautions and putting in place safeguards for accidental pollution risks most cases are avoidable, and spill control measures in particular are easy and inexpensive to put in place.
Oil pollution is often seen as the biggest risk as it is used in quantity in a myriad of applications. For business users of oil a simple oil spill kit can ensure this toxic and damaging liquid does not find its way into the natural environment. Every conceivable type of spill is catered for be it simple handy wipes to mop up minor oil spills or clean machinery to flotation socks to contain major oil spills from boats or un-bonded oil storage containers.
Farmers also routinely spray crops with aggressive weed control chemicals such as Metazachlor which is devastating to aquatic life even in minute quantities so taking the precaution to have specialist chemical absorbents close to hand in storage areas and vehicles to quickly contain and isolate accidental spills is essential.
Home users are more likely to be unaware of the environmental regulations and the dangers of mishandling oils and chemicals. Mopping up oil spills with a rag will just spread the oil around and if you then store them in a cupboard with other waste materials you are risking a potential fire as in the right conditions the chemicals in the rags can spontaneously ignite. Using purpose made absorbent pads soaks up the oil to leave less residue and can be disposed of safely.
We all have a responsibility to protect our natural environment and responsible spill control and waste management is a major part of that responsibility.