Fibertect, the same Texas Tech-created nonwoven cotton technology that keeps soldiers safe from chemical and biological warfare agents, may also serve as the perfect sponge for sopping up oil that has polluted the Gulf of Mexico.
As oil continues to gush from the exploded Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a Texas Tech University expert in nonwoven cotton technology says the fabric of our lives may do a better job to absorb the oil spill than the booms made of synthetic material.
The oil spill has now been called the worst in U.S. history.
“Already, several million feet of the oil-containment booms have been used to capture the oil spilling into the Gulf,” said Seshadri Ramkumar, associate professor of Nonwoven materials at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH). “They are made of synthetic materials, don’t biodegrade and absorb only a third of what raw cotton can do. The properties of raw cotton allow it to soak up 40 times its weight. With chemical modifications, it can soak up to as much as 70 times its weight. And it won’t just stay in a landfill forever.”
Ramkumar’s research focuses on developing value-added materials using nonwoven materials and nanotechnology. He supervises the Nonwoven and Advanced Materials Laboratory at TIEHH. Watch Fibertect in action here.
He is the creator of several nonwoven cotton technologies including Fibertect™, which is used in the U.S. military’s decontamination kits. He and a small group of his graduate students are researching ways to use lower-quality cottons that don’t make apparel grade for uses such as this.
“The nonwoven industry in the United States is well equipped with technologies that can develop oil-absorbent pads from natural fibers like cotton,” Ramkumar said.
In December 2008, the newly-developed decontamination wipe proved itself the best for cleaning up chemical warfare agents and toxic chemicals following an evaluation of Fibertect as part of a study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Scientists tested the wipe using mustard gas and other toxic chemicals and found that the Texas Tech-created product out-performed 30 different decontamination materials, including materials currently used in military decontamination kits.
The results are published online in the American Chemical Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research and titled, “Next Generation Non-particulate Dry Nonwoven Pad for Chemical Warfare Agent Decontamination.”
Currently, the Fibertect wipe is under production by Hobbs Bonded Fibers of Waco and is distributed by First Line Technologies.
Fibertect for Oil Fact Sheet