Clean Up Oil Spills with Low-Grade Cotton

Researchers have found a low-grade cotton from West Texas that might be able to clean oil spills more effectively and more eco-friendly than other methods currently in use. According to the study, one pound of the cotton can soak up more than 30 pounds of oil.

In a new study, researchers used unprocessed raw cottons to soak up oil, becoming one of the first studies to collect data on cotton and oil spills. Seshadri Ramkumar, the lead author of the study, said that he and his colleagues found that low-micronaine cotton is the most effective type of cotton at soaking up oil. Because this type of cotton is low-quality, it could also prove to be a cheaper option for cleaning up oil spills.

“In this region, about 10 percent of the cotton grown in West Texas is low micronaire,” said Ramkumar. “It doesn’t take a dye well, so it gets discounted. However, because low-micronaire cotton is less mature, it shrinks, and you are able to pack more fiber into a given area. The strength here is that the low-micronaire cotton absorbs the most crude oil. The oil is not only stuck to surface, the oil gets absorbed into the fiber.”

Barley straw and polypropylene wool have also been tested by other scientists for oil spills, but Ramkumar said those fibers still left big gaps in research, leaving room for improvements. This low-grade cotton proves to be significant in oil cleanup because it picks up oil by both absorption and adsorption, which makes the oil stick to the outer surface of the cotton.