Researchers at Australia's Deakin University claim to have developed a new material that's capable of cleaning up large oil spills in a flash. A team, led by Professor Ying Chen, has created a new method that uses boron nitride powder as the building block for a sponge that can absorb oil separate from water. Since you couldn't just sprinkle the substance onto the area around a crashed oil tanker, it had to be built into a porous 3D structure. In doing so, the team has been able to increase the surface area per gram to roughly five and a half tennis courts.
Even better is the fact that boron nitride doesn't catch fire, making it an ideal substance to transport volatile chemicals like oil. It's still early days, of course, and we don't imagine spotting one of these being dunked into the ocean the next time an oil tanker goes belly-up. That said, the team is currently showing the material around to companies that are interested in producing sponges on a larger scale, so perhaps we'll start seeing these pop up in the not too distant future.