Paper Waste Could Help with Oil Spills

European researchers from the Technological, Environmental and Logistics Centre (TEC Ltd) in Slovenia have successfully transformed waste from paper mills into a product that can effectively soak up fuel from leaks or oil from spills.

The amount of paper and paper-derived products is huge, and unfortunately so is their waste. In Europe alone the paper industry produces more than 14,400,000 million tons of paper mill sludge per year. The sludge from paper mills has traditionally had little usage as a material that can be employed in other industrial applications, and as a result ended up in landfills.

Instead of becoming waste, the conversion to absorbent from paper mill sludge (CAPS) technology created by the research group at TEC means that paper mill sludge from the paper industry can now be recycled into a highly efficient absorbent material that they call CAPSorb, which is capable of cleaning oil and chemical spills in ports and marinas. The material is so efficient that they claim it will absorb more than 99 % of the initial quantity of the hydrophobic substance on the surface of the water, such as from an oil slick.

The prospective market for their product is huge, aside from oil spills it can also be utilized in other industrial sectors, in particular those that require oil separators. The technology developed is relatively cheap, simple and easily replicable, particularly in markets with a developed paper industry. An initial assembly line has already been put to the test in Slovenia and a further plant is scheduled to be ready in the near future in Finland. 'There are plans to expand our operation with a new production line within the Slovenian paper mill and later on with another production line in Finland,' says Franc Cernec, Project Leader at TEC.

The process of re-inserting waste into the economic cycle is known as Industrial Symbiosis, or Industrial Ecology. This process increases the portfolio of material or energy sources and takes its cue from naturally occurring ecosystems where animals and plants live in a symbiosis with each other. The underlying basis for this paradigm is that all wastes should be regarded as potential resources and that decoupling development from resource use is the key for sustainability.

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