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Waste-derived cellulose-based hydrophobic matrix for efficient oil–water separation: a sustainable approach to mitigate aquatic environmental disasters

Jitesh Bhardwaj, Rajeev Kumar Gupta, Shilpi Agarwal, Shailey Singhal, and Ranjit Kumar

Department of Chemistry, Cluster of Applied Sciences, School of Engineering, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, India



Received: 25 September 2023  Accepted: 2 January 2024


The inadvertent release of crude oil and its derivatives into aquatic ecosystems has emerged as a significant and concerning environmental issue, often leading to catastrophic accidents. Ongoing research efforts are diligently working toward devising effective remedies to curtail and alleviate the adverse impacts of these incidents on the delicate balance of aquatic life. Amidst these endeavors, cellulose, an eco-friendly and cost-effective material, has garnered attention for its potential in addressing this formidable challenge. In this pioneering study, we delve into a novel approach by harnessing waste-derived cellulose to combat oil spills within aquatic environments. Specifically, cellulose was extracted from post-consumer waste cloths (PCWCs) and subjected to a transformative treatment involving strategically chosen silanating agents. This treatment facilitated the creation of a three-dimensional, water-repelling matrix, characterized by a remarkable hydrophobic nature, exemplified by a substantial contact angle of 126.2°. The resultant matrix exhibited exceptional reusability, demonstrating consistent performance over five successive cycles, and showcased an impressive oil absorption capacity of up to 24.36 g/g. Notably, the engineered polyester sponge exhibited a remarkable buoyancy, being approximately 28.5 times lighter than water, and boasted a density ranging from 0.026 to 0.040 g/cm3. This innovative approach not only presents a tangible solution for oil–water separation during scenarios of marine or environmental oil spills, but it also offers a sustainable and valuable application for well-processed PCWCs. By effectively harnessing the intrinsic properties of cellulose and employing meticulous design, this study represents a significant stride toward mitigating the ecological impact of accidental oil discharges in aquatic ecosystems.

Graphical Abstract

Keywords: Oil–water separation; Cellulose; Polyester sponge; Hydrophobic materials; Silylation

Full paper is available at

DOI: 10.1007/s11696-024-03302-y


Chemical Papers 78 (5) 3175–3188 (2024)

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