Low-grade unprocessed cotton could prove an effective cleanup tool following oil spills at sea, according to recent research.
A study published in the most recent issue of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research reveals that one pound of low-micronaire cotton can absorb more than 30 pounds of dense crude oil, according to research conducted at Texas Tech’s Nonwovens and Advanced Materials Laboratory.
In addition, the natural waxiness of raw, unprocessed cotton fiber keeps water out, making cotton an efficient and effective material for addressing ocean-based oil spills, according to the publication, published by the American Chemical Society.
“The new study includes some of the first scientific data on unprocessed cotton’s use as a crude oil sorbent,” according to Southeast Farm Press.
About 10 percent of the cotton grown in West Texas is low micronaire, according to Seshadri Ramkumar, lead author of the study and manager of the Nonwovens and Advanced Materials Laboratory at Texas Tech.
“It doesn’t take a dye well, so it has little value as a textile fiber. However, because it is less mature, more of it can be packed into a given area,” he said. “We show through sophisticated testing that low-micronaire cotton is much finer and can pick up more crude oil.
“In contrast to synthetic sorbents, raw unprocessed cotton with its high crude oil sorption capacity and positive environmental footprint make it an ecologically friendly sorbent for oil spill cleanups,” Ramkumar added.
In a generic sense, micronaire is based on both maturity and fineness of cotton fibers, according to the International Trade Centre’s Cotton Exporter’s Guide.
Lower-micronaire fibers break more easily during mechanical action, are more likely to tangle and tend to become more easily caught around particles of trash and leaf, thereby increasing the amount of good fiber removed.
Ron Kendall, director emeritus at Texas Techs’ Institute of Environmental and Human Health, said the Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrated the need for improved methods of cleaning up oil spills.
“One of the things we realized from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is we didn’t have the best tools for cleanup, and the technology wasn’t right for the booms,” Kendall told Southeast Farm Press.
“This discovery that low-micronaire cotton, which is the least valuable cotton, can absorb as much crude oil as it does is a breakthrough discovery,” he added. “It gives us an excellent tool for cleanup of shorelines, animals and ecologically sensitive areas as well as a new technology for booms that can stop oil sheen moving into wetlands.”
Kater Hake, senior vice-president of Agricultural & Environmental Research at Cotton Incorporated, which contributed funds to the research, said the findings are important.
“The use of low-micronaire cotton to combat crude oil spills is another example of how the industry is eliminating waste and maximizing the environmental value of cotton.”