Scientists from Deakin University, together with French colleagues, say that they have manufactured a lightweight and reusable material that can absorb up to 33 times its weight in a wide range of spilt oils, chemical solvents and dyes, while repelling water.

Deakin University's Dr Wei Wei Lei said that "The effective removal of oils, organic solvents and dyes from water is of significant, global importance for environmental and water source protection.”

The absorbant material consists of sheets of boron nitride, also called "white graphene".

The sheets are highly porous, have a high surface area and float on water. When the white sheets are dropped on an oil-polluted water surface they immediately absorb the oil and become dark brown. It only takes about two minutes until all of the oil is taken up by the nanosheets.

Once saturated, the sheets can be easily picked up from the water surface and cleaned by heating or washing to be reused several times.

The ability to recycle so simply and easily makes the porous boron nitride nanosheets ideal for water purification and treatment.

“What we have developed is unique and has enormous potential on the global market," said Dr Lei.