The Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers announces its endorsement of the use of natural-fiber products such as cotton in remediating the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Cotton and many cotton byproducts provide crucial benefits over synthetic materials, like polypropylene, in recovering oil from the ocean. Cotton fiber can absorb about 40 times its weight in oil, whereas currently used synthetics have a capacity of 10 to 20 times their weight. In addition, the oil absorbed by cotton, along with the cotton itself, will degrade naturally in the environment, which is not the case for synthetics. Also, cotton fiber and its fibrous byproducts can be reused to absorb additional oil.

“Agricultural and biological engineers have been aware of the superiority of natural fibers for oil clean-up applications for quite some time,” said ASABE President Ron Yoder. “In 1994, the effectiveness of cotton for absorbing oil was documented by a USDA research agricultural engineer. Other natural fibers, like kenaf and wood products, also have been demonstrated to be sound solutions to this problem. “

“Moreover, because natural fibers can be microbially digested and are renewable they offer an environmentally sound solution for dealing with massive spills that synthetic alternatives are incapable of providing,” Yoder adds.

With proper dispersal, a 500-pound bale of cotton fiber could absorb 25,000 pounds of oil, or 76 barrels. As of April 1 of this year, there were 8 million bales of cotton and cleaned lint cleaner waste in storage in the U.S. Additional research that improves our understanding of the physical properties of natural fibers and of the impact of variables like dispersal methods, fiber pre-treatments, and weather, could boost efficiency even further.

A formal statement by the Society provides supporting data for its endorsement. A copy can be found at www.asabe.org/PA/ASABE_ps_OilRemediation.pdf.

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers is a scientific and educational organization dedicated to the advancement of engineering applicable to agricultural, food, and biological systems. Members are consultants, managers and others who have the training and experience to understand the interrelationships between technology and living systems. Founded in 1907 and headquartered in St Joseph, Michigan, ASABE comprises 9,000 members from more than 100 countries. For further information, contact ASABE, 2950 Niles Rd, St Joseph, Michigan, 49085; 269-429-0300; hq@asabe.org; www.asabe.org.