Coconut jelly: You eat it, you make desserts, and you make a sponge for removing oil spills with it.
We spoke with Dr. Supree Pinitsoontorn (Dew), a material scientist and lecturer at Khon Kaen University, and the winner FameLab Thailand 2020, on the FameLab experience and how his research proved that coconut jelly could be transformed into a carbon sponge that absorbs oil spills in wastewater.
The problem of oil spills in Thailand
Oil spills in Thailand can be commonly seen in the ocean, river, natural water resources, industrial sites, hotels, and restaurants. Riverside dwellers, in particular, dispose dishwash and cooking wastewater into the river. This contaminates water resources and impacts the ecosystem downstream. This issue not only contributes to water pollution in Thailand, but rather is a global concern. A simple solution to get rid of oil spills is to burn them, but this creates air pollution instead.
My aspiration is to find a better way to deal with this by using absorbent. Paper and sponges, while widely used, are limited as they absorb both water and oil, and paper gets crumbled easily. Thus, I determine to find the best material that specifically absorbs oil and does not get crumbled over times. Many research findings showed that carbon is great at absorbing oil and not water. So, to enhance this absorbing capacity, we apply nanotechnology to create foaming interior scattered with many tiny air tunnels, increasing surface area for better sorption.
How is your research different to others?
There are plenty of research around the globe on this issue. Any burnt materials are considered carbon. But for my research, I chose bacterial cellulose in coconut, so called “coconut jelly.” I chose it because coconut jelly can be mass produced in Thailand for upscaling, and the jelly fibres are naturally nano scale. Now, this project is still at laboratory scale, but I do hope to upscale its production to utilise its full potential in real natural water resources.