Cleaning up the world's oceans could become easier thanks to swimwear that soaks up pollutants from water. The 3D-printed 'Sponge Suit' bikini, developed by University of California, Riverside and New York design firm Eray Carbajo, is made of a carbon-based filler material that absorbs chemical spills up to 25 times its own weight. The contaminants are trapped in the garment's netlike structure, so they don't touch the skin, and the suit won't release the absorbed materials unless heated to temperatures higher than 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit. “We aim to turn it from prototype into a real product next year and also create a design for men,” said Mihri Ozkan, electrical engineering professor at UC Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering.
Q: What's the thinking behind your invention?
– The Sponge Suit helps us effortlessly clean seas as we swim. At an individual level its impact may be small, but together we can make a difference. The world incorporates crowdsourcing in to every field now, why not crowd-clean?
Q: How does it work?
– It is made of highly hydrophobic material, meaning it dislikes water, and it has great affinity towards absorbing oil-like chemicals. Its super-porous nature allows the material to be highly absorbent, while trapping the absorbed chemicals in its inner pores.
Q: What are the benefits from your study?
– Our research in this material started about four years ago, with the aim of finding a practical and cost-efficient solution to the oil spills happening around the world. At any scale, this material will be helpful in water decontamination and purification. The sponge's other properties allow future applications in thermal and electromagnetic insulation as well. It is a smart, scalable and reprogrammable technology, which we think the world and many industries could benefit out of.
Q: How many times can one suit be used?
– The number of times it can be used will depend on how contaminated the water is. Once the material is at its capacity, it can easily be disposed and changed with a new sponge layering.
Q: The product is just a prototype for now, right?
– We are currently in conversations with swimwear companies. We want to partner up with a team that is as enthusiastic as we are in making an environmental impact. We aim to turn it into a real product next year.
Q: Will you add some extra features?
– We are working on developing the full suit, and with the increasing demand, we have started to design for men as well. We'll expand into other swimming accessories such as swim caps, surfboards and wetsuits.
Q: What does the future hold for your project?
– At this stage we can't know if the Sponge Suit is going to be the one that is most commonly used, but we know that its unique concept is a strong reminder for us to address this environmental issue.