Although the visibility of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has receded from the headlines the long-term environmental and economical impact of the spill and its clean-up loom large for those who live and work along the Gulf of Mexico. Ironically, one of the best long term clean-up components for this and future environmental spills is literally in the region’s backyard: cotton. With minimal processing, cotton fiber and ginning byproducts can repel water and absorb oil; meaning cotton booms can float on the surface while absorbing as much as twice the oil by weight as conventional, oil-derived polypropylene booms.
“A local solution to disasters such as this can be an efficient method of restoring the ecology, while spurring the local economy,” says Louisiana State Representative Noble Ellington, who represents an area that produces cotton. “With approximately 60% of U.S. cotton coming from the five states touching the Gulf of Mexico raw materials are not hard to come by. We ought to use local products to solve local problems whenever we can,” adds Ellington.
“We use U.S. gin motes,” says John Sellars, President and Founder of Sellars Absorbent Materials, Inc., whose customers have already provided over one million feet of its absorbent cotton boom to the Gulf region in recent months. “We wanted to create a natural-based and effective absorbent boom,” explains Sellars. “Repurposing gin waste from U.S. cotton was the ideal way to go.” Sellars adds that his company was also inspired by the Scandinavian oil industry, who have banned poly-filled booms in favor of cotton ones.
“Motes are a byproduct of the cotton ginning process,” explains Jan O’Regan, Cotton Incorporated Director, Strategic Initiatives. “Basically, they are small, immature seeds that have very short fibers attached.” Like unprocessed cotton fiber, motes are naturally hydrophobic and oleophilic; meaning that they repel water --- and thus, float--- and absorb oil. “Motes are frequently used in the non-wovens sector, but Sellars is using them in a unique way and maximizing their natural properties.” Those properties could be put through further use in the coming weeks, as a succession of tropical storms develops in the Atlantic.
Expert estimates on how much of the total oil spill remains within the Gulf range from 25% to a high of nearly 80%. Even if the more optimistic estimates are true and three-quarters of the oil has been removed, the balance is significantly greater than all the oil in the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. Whether the impending hurricane season will bring that hidden oil to the surface and shore remains to be seen, but John Sellars advocates preparedness.
“This region has had more than its fair share of challenges in recent years,” says Sellars. “At Sellars, we’re taking a holistic approach that effectively addresses the clean-up needs and helps the regional economies: raw materials come from U.S. cotton gins, our U.S.-manufactured products are sold through local suppliers throughout the Gulf States, and, of course, our cotton booms and pads are highly efficient at removing oil from the water and the shore.”
Cotton-based sorbent booms and pads have been a mainstay in European oil clean-ups for over 25 years. The ample supply of raw cotton materials and manufacturing expertise in the U.S. positions cotton-based booms and pads as an effective local solution to this type of environmental and economic challenge.
Whether for the ongoing clean up of the Deepwater Horizon spill, or for any oil spill that may threaten U.S. waters in the future, companies and federal, state and local officials can look to their own back yard for a high-performance solution.
About Sellars Absorbent Materials, Inc.
Sellars Absorbent Materials, Inc. was founded in 1985 as a manufacturer of high-performance, cost-effective sorbents and expanded to include wipers in 1996. Over the course of the company’s history, Sellars has been granted 25 patents for its proprietary processes and is a recognized leader in “green: innovations for the category, including the use of paper and cotton waste and other by-products. More information on the company and its products can be found at www.sellarscompany.com
About Cotton Incorporated
Cotton Incorporated, funded by U.S. growers of upland cotton and importers of cotton and cotton textile products, is the research and marketing company representing upland cotton. The Program is designed and operated to improve the demand for and profitability of cotton.