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Unstrange Phenomena

11 June 2010

Effective Cheap Idea to Clean Up Oil Spill: Treated Cotton Fabric

*** New technology idea to help clean up BP oil spill.

In my state of Louisiana this brown Pelican was just taken off the endangered list right before the BP oil spill. Now look at this poor bird, covered in oil and cancer-causing dispersant that Britain outlawed 10 years ago yet with depraved indifference and callous disregard used it freely on America's shores - without informing - and refusing to inform when queried by the American government as to the chemicals in it. That alone is enough for a huge lawsuit. Photo by Charlie Riedel/AP

From Denny: New ideas for cleaning up this nasty BP oil spill disaster keep rolling in as fast as the oil rolls in to shore. The tech guys have come up with a promising idea that just might work. What they are proposing is to use a specially treated cotton fabric. This fabric will be able to both admit water yet repel the oil. Most fabrics used right now are oil containment fabrics not repellents.

Certainly, the textile industry will be happy to get the looms working again in America. While the company is not divulging the particulars of this secret chemical, a polymer, it does have the ability to reach out and grab the oil, then transport it from the water. If I were the President I would like my scientists to be shown the chemical makeup - they can sign all the confidentiality agreements they want to protect the product) to make sure it will not cause more problems while cleaning up the oil from the ocean water. Trading one problem for another is not productive.

How this treated cotton fabric works

Basically, this treated cotton fabric acts as a filter, not a barrier or even as an absorber, says researcher Di Gao at the University of Pittsburgh. Just think, the water doesn't slide off but passes through, leaving the oil like a fine sieve. “It’s kind of like a spoon or a bucket.”

When dipping the cotton treated fabric into oil-tainted water there is a trough made from the polymer-coated cotton fabric. It acts to keep the oil in but lets the water flow through like a sieve. The cotton fabric acts like a bucket that you just lift up out of the water and transfer the collected oil to a tanker. “I believe that our technique will work and is currently the best way to clean up the oil spill in Mexico,” Gao said.

The simplicity of this new use for cotton fabric is astounding. When the fabric is soaked in the polymer fluid it then gets dried in the open air or an oven. That's it. Then it has the ability to both attract water and repel oil. The next question is when is this fabric available for use in the home kitchen? :)

Current ineffective oil spill clean up technology is expensive and cumbersome

Right now oil spill cleanup crews might as well be using technology from the Dark Ages. They use oil absorbent booms to try and stop the spread of oil. The oil containment booms made of fabric float on top of the water and are easily subject to getting tossed around by rough seas. They extend about a foot underwater through the use of hanging chains.

Their effectiveness is pretty weak. As it is, many of those booms, once soaked, have not been picked up and have floated deep into Louisiana's marshlands landing next to rookeries, making matters worse. One company that makes those oil booms is Slickbar, that is a major manufacturer of oil spill products.

Get this, Steve Reilly, the CEO of Slickbar states, “I’ve never heard of that before,” he said when asked about an oil boom that could repel oil." And you wonder why the Gulf Coast and the government is having such a tough time getting these guys to step up the pace on clean up.

Advantages of new fabric over oil booms

There is deeper water that oil booms cannot reach and this new cotton fabric is thought to be more useful for oil clean up because of the limitations of the oil booms.

The oil booms have to be collected and disposed of properly or burned after reaching their saturation level. Get this, the new cotton fabric is re-usable, actually recovering oil instead of losing it to burn off. Then all you have to do is send that fabric recovered oil to an oil refinery and add it to the national supply chain. This certainly goes a long way toward defraying clean up costs considerably.

Another advantage is that this treated fabric is so simple anyone can produce it easily. “Yes, cleanup crews can make these filters themselves,” Gao said. All that’s required are industrial-size cotton sheets, containers for soaking, lots of empty space for them to dry, and of course the special solution. I don’t know why nobody’s contacting me,” Gao said as he was asked for a response to recent news reports warning of catastrophic boom shortages on the Gulf coast. “They should talk to me.”

This new fabric is the result of about five years of research, according to Gao. He and his team were planning to patent the material until this BP oil spill disaster happened. He says the chemical used to soak the cotton sheets to make it an oil repellent is actually commercially available, though he isn't disclosing the ingredients. “It takes a long time to patent this, the situation is so urgent that we’re trying to use it to clean up the oil spill,” he said.

Does it work?

They have already tested it along the Louisiana coast and it is confirmed to be a success. Here is Gao demonstrating the effectiveness of the fabric using samples taken from the Gulf of sea water and the crude oil in a video demo to show you how simple and easy it is to use for oil spill clean up efforts:

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