Researchers at Texas Tech University (TTU), Lubbock, Texas, have engineered an absorbent mat using low-grade cotton that can collect up to 50 times its weight in oil. Seshadri Ramkumar, Ph.D., Department of Environmental Toxicology, TTU, led the research project, assisted by doctoral student Vinitkumar Singh. Scientists from Cotton Incorporated, Cary, N.C., as well as researchers from TTU’s departments of Mechanical Engineering and Environmental Toxicology also participated. The team tried to develop a fundamental understanding behind the effect of fiber structure and basic cotton characteristics on oil sorption capacity of unprocessed raw cotton, as well as examine the basic mechanisms behind oil sorption by nonwoven cotton webs.
The project was initiated following the 4.9 million-barrel crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. “This incident triggered our interest in developing environmentally sustainable materials for environmental remediation,” Ramkumar said. “In this study, we have used low-grade cotton as well as mature cotton, and it was observed that low-grade cotton performs better than regular mature cotton in the oil sorption capacity.”
The research team hopes to bring the cotton batts to market within 12 months.