A type of membrane that separates oil from water - developed by Purdue University material engineers - may be used to clean up oil spills such as BP's massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jeffrey Youngblood, an assistant professor of materials engineering at the West LaFayette, Ind.-based university, has created technology that could eventually be used to help with environmental cleanups as well as other applications such as water purification and industrial uses.

The technology, which is being licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization, would last longer than conventional filters for separating oil from water and works by attracting water while beading oil, traits that are usually mutually exclusive.

Researchers have tested the materials with solutions containing oil suspended in water at concentrations similar to those existing in oil spills and other environmental cleanup circumstances.

"Oil dispersed in water and then run through these filters is resulting in a 98 percent separation," Youngblood says.

Such filters also might be used in other situations, such as removing oil from a ship's bilge water or cleaning wastewater contaminated with oil.