Removal of oil from water using Biomimetics techniques

Published on by in Technology

Nature has gone through over 3.8 billion years of evolution. It has evolved species with high performance and qualities and features that are desirable for human and industrial applications. Biological materials generally have hierarchical structures made of commonly found materials with dimensions of features ranging from the macroscale to the nanoscale. Biomimetics is a field that mimics biology or living nature for human and industrial applications. Biomimetics involves taking ideas from nature and implementing them to develop bioinspired structured surfaces and materials.

The objective of this research is to select species from living nature that provide functionality and qualities of commercial interest. These functions and features are explored and developed into applications appropriate for human and industrial use.This is done by characterizing the species to understand how it provides functionality. Then, the species is modeled, and its structures are fabricated in the lab using nature's route to verify the understanding and develop optimum structures based on these models.Nature has a limited toolbox and uses rather basic materials and fabrication methods. Once it is understood how nature creates the desired features and qualities, optimum structures can then be fabricated using smart materials and techniques. These are referred to as bioinspired hierarchical-structured surfaces. Further, human ingenuity can be applied to nature's solutions, providing improvements and cross-applicability of these structures.

My present research is focused on fabricating superomniphobic, self-cleaning/antifouling, and drag reducing surfaces.These surfaces are inspired by the surface structures of various species from living nature, including lotus leaves, shark skin, butterfly wings, and rice leaves (as shown in Figure 1).



The most exciting aspect to working in biomimeticsisthe simplicity with which nature solves problems endemic to the human and industrial conditions - namely, fouling and drag. Green technology to reduce environmental impacts are found in the structures nature has provided. Once researched and modeled, nature provides the most technically simple solutions that can be combined and reimagined for human and industrial uses. For example, my lab group has recently created a superoleophobic oil/water separator based on hierarchical roughness inspired by the lotus effect, with an added layer of chemistry to increase and improve upon the natural effects. This separator theoretically is infinitely reusable, has low cost and simple construction, and perfectly separates water and oil, providing a solution to the problem of cleaning industrial accidents and oil spills from our oceans.

More information about this research can be found at:

About the author:

Prof. Bharat Bhushan is a renowned practitioner, academic, and researcher in interdisciplinary fields focused on biomimetics and bionics. From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he earned a Master of Science in mechanical engineering in 1971, and from the University of Colorado at Boulder, he earned a second Master of Science in mechanics in 1973 and his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 1976. Further, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he earned a M.B.A. in 1980. In addition, he is recipient of four semi-honorary and honorary degrees from European universities. In his early career, he established himself as a distinguished practitioner and researcher focused on tribology of head-disk interfaces in industry. Upon joining the faculty of The Ohio State University as an Ohio Eminent Scholar and The Howard D. Winbigler Professor in the College of Engineering, Dr. Bhushan founded the Nanoprobe Laboratory for Bio- & Nanotechnology and Biomimetics (NLBB). His research focus has shifted to include fundamental studies concentrated on scanning probe techniques in the interdisciplinary areas of bio/nanotribology, bio/nanomechanics and bio/nanomaterials characterization and applications to bio/nanotechnology, and biomimetics. His interviewcan be found at