Conservation Matters June 2013

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Texas Tech study finds low-grade cotton brings top value in oil spill cleanup

Texas Tech study finds low-grade cotton brings top value in oil spill cleanupWhen it comes to cleaning up possible future massive crude oil spills, one of the best and most eco-friendly solutions for the job may be low-grade cotton from West Texas, say Texas Tech University researchers.

Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar, lead author of the study and manager of the Nonwovens and Advanced Materials Laboratory at Texas Tech’s The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH), said he and his colleagues found that low-micronaire cotton—one of the lowest-quality types of cotton—is most effective at picking up oil. A pound of the low-micronaire cotton can pick up more than 30 pounds of crude oil, and its natural waxiness helps to repel water.

The new study includes some of the first scientific data on unprocessed raw cotton’s use in crude oil spills and was published in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

“In this region, about 10 percent of the cotton grown in West Texas is low micronaire,” Ramkumar said. “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.”

Dr. Ron Kendall, director emeritus at TIEHH and special assistant to the president, said the Deepwater Horizon disaster emphasized the need for better ways of cleaning up oil spills.

“One of the things we realized from Deepwater Horizon is we didn’t have the best tools for cleanup, and the technology wasn’t right for the booms,” Kendall said. “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. 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. And it’s biodegradable. This is just another added bonus use for low-end West Texas cotton. Now, farmers have a new use for low-end cotton in a very significant way for oil spill cleanup.”

To keep reading about this research, see the full Texas Tech Today story.

Back to Top