Oil spill in marine water has become a major issue these days. When an oil spill occurs, the oil floats and forms a millimeter-thick layer on the surface of the water. Oil when spread harm aquatic organisms by poisoning or smothering them. Inhaling oil can damage the central nervous system, the digestive track, the liver and the lung. Sea birds coated with oil lose their ability to fly, float and stay warm.
After a spill oil gets dispersing towards surrounding area hence timing is crucial to prevent the slicks spread. Various traditional methods are used to combat oil spill. Various chemical, physical and biological methods such as use of chemical dispersants, solidifiers, sorbents, in-situ burning, skimmers, evaporation, oxidation and microbes are used for removal of oil spill. These technologies either require high cost or are not effective, while some lead to pollution.
Adsorption of oil by hair follicles
Human hair is considered a waste material in most parts of the world and its accumulation in waste streams causes many environmental problems; however, it has many known uses. Hair attracts oil and it's a natural material that otherwise goes into landfills so we see the opportunity to divert it into something that is more sustainable.
Hair is an extremely efficient material for taking in all kinds of oils including petroleum; it clinks to the hair because it’s spiky. Hair works so well as an absorbent because a strand of hair is composed of scales that vastly increase the surface area that oil clings to. A single kilogram of hair can collect up to two liters of oil.
Hair Boom Technology
The hair-booms look like big hair sausages. These booms are made by using nylon bags, the hairs and feathers are stuffed in these booms and are covered by a compact mesh. These bags are put surrounding the oil spill area. The booms float on the surface of water and as hair and feathers adsorb oil and repeals water the oil particles get adsorbed on the oil follicles.
Disposal of these oil coated hair booms can be done through incineration or disposed off in secured landfills.
Use of hair boom technology is accepted by NASA as well as Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also approved the use of hair in oil spill by using hair mats.
This technology was used during oil spill in Gulf of Mexico and in the 2006 spill in the Philippines.
- This method can also be used in industries during oil spill.
- As a potential material resource, human hair has the advantage that it is completely biodegradable, renewable, and available in every locality.
- A major advantage of this method is that the booms are reusable after the oil is squeezed out