July 12, 2010
The oil spill that is destroying wildlife and wetlands and impacting the economy and livelihoods all along the Gulf Coast has turned the spotlight on ways to clean up the mess.
More than 30,000 suggestions have been submitted by the public for dealing with the oil goo that is floating ashore, but two proven products for absorbing oil in water are agricultural — cotton and its cousin, kenaf.
Research at Texas Tech University has confirmed that raw cotton can absorb up to 40 times its weight in oil, and with chemical modification, such as the addition of acetic anhydride, the absorptive capacity can be increased to as much as 70 times its weight. Further, the cotton can be reused through several cycles after removal of absorbed oil. Assuming an absorptive capacity of 50 times the weight of properly dispersed cotton fiber, a 500-pound bale of cotton could absorb 25,000 pounds of oil. As of April 1, there were 8 million bales of cotton and cleaned lint cleaner waste in storage in the U.S. (A video demonstration of cotton’s oil absorptive qualities can be seen at Easy Cheap Oil Spill Fix: Texas Tech's Fibertect.)