Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



"Swelling Glass" Cleans Polluted Water Like a Sponge

A new kind of glass can swell to absorb pollutants in water. This is the discovery that could put the College of Wooster on the map: glass that swells like a sponge.  Put together like a nano-matrix, the new glass can unfold to hold up to eight times its weight.  The glass binds with gasoline and other pollutants containing volatile organic compounds but it does not bind with water, so it acts like a “smart” sponge, capable of picking and choosing from contaminated groundwater.


The new material was developed by Dr. Paul Edmiston of the College of Wooster, who formed a new company, Absorbent Materials, to market the new glass under the trademark Obsorb.  A number of pilot sites are being tested in the United States, and industrialized countries are not the only ones that stand to gain.  Obsorb’s unique properties make it ideal for low tech, low-budget cleanups in developing areas as well.

Swelling Glass, Hydrophobia and Groundwater Pollution

Obsorb is a reactive glass.  Unlike conventional glass, it can bond with the chemicals it encounters.  However, it is also hydrophobic, meaning that it does not bond with water.  At a recent pilot demonstration in Ohio, Obsorb was used in the form of a white powder to suck up a plume of TCE (a volatile organic compound).  TCE is particularly difficult and expensive to clean up using conventional means, which is the reason why some contaminated sites are simply shut down, allowing the vapors to dissipate naturally.  The process takes decades, so Obsorb could provide a low-cost means of recovering sites more quickly.  The venture development group JumpStart Inc. saw the potential and has just committed a $250,000 investment to Absorbent Materials.

Swelling Glass and Low Cost Clean-up

Once full, Obsorb floats to the surface, where it can be skimmed off with something as simple as a coffee filter.  After that the pollutants can be retrieved and the glass can be reused hundreds of time.  Nanoparticles of iron can also be added to convert TCE or PCE (another volatile organic compound) into harmless substances.  As a low cost form of cleanup, swelling glass could provide site remediators with yet another in the growing list of non-conventional cleanup tools along with lactate, vitamin B-12, and even cattails.

Image: Glass by mrhayata on

Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality and cleantech news coverage? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.

Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


You May Also Like


Liuzhou, China has the highest percentage of EV sales in the world except for Oslo, Norway. How did it do it?

Clean Transport

Originally published on Transport & Environment. By Eoin Bannon The global shipping fleet will be required to reduce its carbon intensity by just 1.5% a year...

Air Quality

After President Richard Nixon proposed establishing the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency on July 9, 1970, Republicans have assumed some level of responsibility for cleaning...

Fossil Fuels

Rather than strengthening the desperately outdated Lead and Copper Rule to protect people’s — especially children’s — health, the US Environmental Protection Agency chose...

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.