The long-term goal of this multidisciplinary project is the fundamental understanding needed to design, fabricate, and ultimately validate prototype surface-modified TiO2 nanotube membranes with controlled wettability and high internal surface area/porosity, for stepwise absorption and decomposition of oil and disperse oil. Most current research methods for oil-spill cleanup rely on synthesis of porous hydrophobic materials for oil absorption or using photocatalysts (e.g., TiO2) to decompose oil.
This project combines these two types of methods and proposes to develop novel TiO2 nanotube membranes with controlled surface properties for both oil absorption and degradation. In the proposed research, surfaces of TiO2 nanotube membranes will be modified for switching between superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic behavior on demand. The nanotube membrane modified with a hydrophobic coating on the surface becomes superhydrophobic and superoleophilic due to its high internal surface area and capillary action; thus it can be used to separate oil from water for oil absorption. When the oil-loaded nanotube membrane switches to hydrophilic state by removing hydrophobic coating between oil and TiO2 surface, oil is in contact with TiO2 surface for photocatalytic degradation.
The proposed research is the first effort to fabricate and investigate self-standing and highly-ordered nanomaterials with controllable surface wettability for both oil absorption and decomposition. Furthermore, the proposed system has a well-fined structure and precisely controlled porosity at nanoscale, and thus provides a model system for thorough fundamental study and performance optimization. The proposed research is expected to result in (i) a better fundamental understanding of oil degradation processes by photocatalysis and of environmental stresses caused by oil spill, (ii) potential solutions to spill remediation, and (iii) enhancing the fundamental research base and the nationwide competitiveness of Louisiana State University in the field of oil-spill cleanup.