As long as industry and infrastructure relies on oil to function, there will be spills. Cleaning up such disasters, like the recent Mayflower, Arkansasrupture, can be costly and time consuming. Even the chemicals that are used to disperse and absorb the crude can be dangerous to the environment, and researchers have long been looking for greener alternatives. A new study finds that raw, unprocessed cotton may be a cheaper and safer way to soak up oil than synthetics.

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In the hunt for biodegradable and absorbent materials to aid in disaster cleanup, trials have already been conducted with wool, barley straw, and kapok. Ramkumar and his colleagues found that a form of raw, unprocessed cotton called “low micronaire ” was able to shrink more fibers in a given area, was less expensive, and grown in the United States. Ten percent of the cotton grown in West Texas is low micronaire, and it’s discounted because it does not take dye very well. The cotton is both able to absorb oil as well as collect it on its surface. The scientists found that each pound of the cotton was able to soak up on average 30 pounds of crude oil.

“In contrast to synthetic sorbents, raw cotton with its high crude oil sorption capacity and positive environmental footprint make it an ecologically friendly sorbent for oil spill cleanups” the researchers state in their report, which was published in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

It should be noted that their work has been made possible by a grant from the Texas State Support Program of Cotton Incorporated and The CH Foundation and presents a possible bias. While there still may be issues with how the cotton is produced in regard to fossil fuel expenditure, water, and pesticide use, it could prove to be a new valuable weapon in the arsenal to fight these environmental disasters.

Via Clean Technica

Images via Wikicommons user Kimbery Varedman and Texas Tech University.