June 22, 2010
It's easy not to think much about oil spill remediation technology until something like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster happens, but materials scientists spend a lot of time thinking about how different materials respond to all kinds of offending substances. In the case of one Texas Tech University professor, a cloth wipe he developed to absorb and contain agents of biological warfare for the U.S. military can absorb 15 times its weight in oil while simultaneously detoxifying it. Paging BP.
Seshadri Ramkumar, who holds the excellent title "associate professor of nonwoven technologies" at Tech's Institute of Environment and Human Health, developed Fibertect to protect U.S. service members in the event of a chemical or biological attack. The material consists of a fibrous activated carbon layer sandwiched between two layers of raw, nonwoven cotton. The cotton layers effectively absorb oil -- even oil that's dispersed in water -- while the carbon core pulls it in and contains it.