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Flowers & Power: Absorbing a new, environmentally friendly use for cotton

New Contributor II
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Check the dictionary for the definition of versatile. You won’t find “cotton” there, and that’s a shame.

Here are just some of the products that come from this worthy plant: textile and yarn goods, automobile tire cord, plastic reinforcing, fertilizer, fuel and packing, pressed paper and cardboard. As if that weren’t enough, there’s cottonseed oil for salads and cooking, margarine and other shortenings and even cosmetics. And don’t forget
soap, candles, detergents, artificial leather, oilcloth and many other commodities.

So with this knowledge, it should come as no great surprise that there may well be yet another use for cotton, one on a rather grand scale. In the wake of such disasters as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists have discovered that unprocessed, raw cotton may be an excellent, environmentally friendly product to absorb large quantities of oil.

Reporting in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research,
Seshadri Ramkumar and colleagues say that their research was motivated by a need to find materials to soak up oil from spills that are relatively cheap, biodegradable and sustainable. While there had been in-depth research on wool, barley straw and kapok, little has been published about the absorbing levels of raw cotton, they said.

So what did they find? Each pound of cotton absorbed and retained up to 30 pounds of crude oil, a significant amount for cleanup activities. And not only did it sop up the crude, but the oil also stuck to the outside of the cotton. In addition to having great absorbing power, the raw cotton is environmentally friendly, another advantage when compared to synthetic materials that soak up spills, the team said.

With concerns over oil spills and their effect on the environment, do you think such a finding will be on a fast track to the marketplace?

“Crude Oil Sorption by Raw Cotton”

*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing


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Credit: Texas Tech University

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