Published on 22 Apr 2021

Tackling marine oil spills with pollen sponge – Professor Cho Nam-Joon

We are delighted to share the research achievement of Professor Cho Nam-Joon and his team, which has been featured in various media.

Oil spills are difficult to clean up, and result in severe long-lasting damage to the marine ecosystem. Conventional clean-up methods, including using chemical dispersants to break oil down into very small droplets, or absorbing it with expensive, unrecyclable materials, may worsen the damage.

To tackle marine oil spills, a team of scientists, led by NTU Singapore and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea, has created a reusable, biodegradable sponge that can readily soak up oil and other organic solvents from contaminated water sources. Made of sunflower pollen, the sponge is hydrophobic – it repels water – thanks to a coat of natural fatty acid on the sponge. In lab experiments, the scientists showed the sponge’s ability to absorb oil contaminants of various densities, such as gasoline and motor oil, at a rate comparable to that of commercial oil absorbents. The researchers have engineered sponges that measure 5 cm in diameter. The research team believes that these sponges, when scaled up, could be an eco-friendly alternative to tackle marine oil spills.

Professor Cho Nam-Joon from the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering, who led the study, said: “By finetuning the material properties of pollen, our team successfully developed a sponge that can selectively target oil in contaminated water sources and absorb it. Using a material that is found abundantly in nature also makes the sponge affordable, biodegradable, and eco-friendly

From left: Shahrudin Ibrahim, Deng Jingyu, Dr Zhao Ze and Prof Cho Nam-Joon developed a sponge made of sunflower pollen that can readily absorb oil and other organic solvents from contaminated water sources. Photo Credit: NTU

The breakthrough research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Advanced Functional Materials, with the title “Colloid‐Mediated Fabrication of a 3D Pollen Sponge for Oil Remediation Applications”. The research article can be found via this link:

Our heartiest congratulations to Prof Cho and his team on the excellent achievement!

Media Coverage:

The Straits Times, page B7
Channel NewsAsia, 7 Apr, 10pm (at 45.42min)
Channel 8, 7 Apr, 6.30pm
Channel 8 online, 7 Apr
Lianhe Zaobao, page 13
Berita Harian, page 2
The Star (Malaysia), 7 Apr
I3 Investor (Malaysia), 7 Apr
Sinchew Daily, 7 Apr
The Engineer (UK), 7 Apr
Mothership, 8 Apr
New Atlas (US), 7 Apr
Sustainability Matters, 9 Apr
Engineering & Technology, 8 Apr
Maeil Ilbo (South Korea), 12 Apr
Metro (Korea) online, 12 Apr
Metro (Korea), 12 Apr, page 14 and online
Intelligent Living, 11 Apr
The Optimist Daily (US), 10 Apr
Donaim Haber (Turkey), 11 Apr
Tencent News (China), 15 Apr
Engineering Matters, 13 Apr
World Energy Trade, 13 Apr
News Release