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Cotton Offers Green, Low Cost Way to Clean Oil Spills, Study Finds

Unprocessed raw cotton may be an ecologically friendly, lower cost solution to clean up oil spills, according to a report published in the American Chemical Society journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

The report, Crude Oil Sorption by Raw Cotton, describes research by scientists at Texas Tech University and includes some of the first scientific data on unprocessed, raw cotton’s use in crude oil spills. The scientists focused on the oil sorption properties of low micronaire cotton (pictured), a form of unprocessed cotton with less commercial value.

Researchers found each pound of the low micronaire, or immature, cotton has the ability to sop up and hold more than 30 pounds of crude oil. The cotton fibers take up oil in multiple ways, including both absorption and adsorption, which means the oil sticks to the outer surface of the cotton fiber, according to the report.

The low micronaire cotton can absorb higher amounts of oil than regular-grade cotton because of its finer structure and wax content, the report says.

The environmental and ecological problems caused by oil spills illustrates the need for oil-spill sorbents that are abundant, available at relatively low cost, sustainable and biodegradable, the report says. Current cleanup technologies, such as in situ burning and the use of chemical dispersants and sorbents, including booms and skimmers, don’t meet those environmentally friendly standards.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in US history, sent an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. Conventional cleanup technologies, including floating booms, skimmer ships, controlled burns and chemical dispersant were used to clean up the spill. BP pleaded guilty last year to federal felony charges and agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines for its role in the disaster.

Earlier this month, The Obama administration announced almost $600 million in funding for 28 projects to address damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Louisiana barrier islands will receive about $320 million for restoration of beaches and marshes.





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