Cleaning Oil Spills with West Texas Cotton

'Fibertect', first developed at Texas Tech, uses low grade cotton to absorb oil, with great success. It can play a pivotal role in environmental rehabilitation after oil spills, and other petroleum-related emergencies.
by Victoria Price and Kathleen Davis

LUBBOCK, TX – The cleaning up of the thousands of gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday is continuing, and Texas Tech may offer a more efficient cleaning method.

The technology is called Fibertect, a non woven combination of low grade cotton, and sheets of carbon that was developed by Texas Tech at the Reese Technology Center.

"Cotton has various grades. The higher grades are used for things like jeans. But low grade cotton doesn't have a lot of value," according to Dr. Ron Kendall, who helped develop the product. "Except for Fibertect."

The cotton has incredible absorptive properties, making it easy to take in the oil. Kendall says the material can hold up to 35 pounds of oil for every one pound of cotton. The carbon keeps the toxins trapped. Since it only contains cotton and carbon, the product is also completely biodegradable, and even reusable.

The project began more than a decade ago, to help the military counter chemical warfare. It was only in more recent years that they discovered its full potential. According to its website, the material can clean up a variety of toxic material including mustard gas and Methylparathion, a toxic pesticide.

"This was a top Pentagon priority, a decontaminate for human skin and high technology equipment," Kendall explains. "What we realized over time is that how remarkable it was with cleaning up oil."

And so when it comes to cleaning up major environmental disasters...one man's trash, is another man's treasure.

"It's a win win situation. It gives another value for low grade West Texas cotton, it creates a technology that's biodegradable, and its a technology that's incredibly good at absorbing oil," Kendall says.

The material was first tested for its effectiveness against oil spills in the BP oil spill in 2010, and is available commercially from First Line Technology, based in Chantilly, VA.

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