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Nonwovens: Booming In the Gulf?



Meltblown Absorbent Devices Are Helping Keep Oil At Bay In Environmental Crisis



By Karen McIntyre, editor



Published May 13, 2010
Related Searches: absorbent nonwovens fiber nonwoven
As subsea efforts continue to focus on stopping the flow of oil in the Gulf of Mexico as well as containing the flow of oil at the source, government officials and industry experts continue to test methods to minimize damage to the environment. Among the many materials and devices being deployed to handle the crisis are devices known as absorbent booms, made from polypropylene nonwovens. The exterior is a five-foot-long nonwoven tube made in an eight to 12-inch diameter which is stuffed with various polypropylene materials, including meltblown nonwovens, and covered with netting.

"The reason for the use of polypropylene is because its specific gravity is lighter than water so the booms will float on the water's surface," explained Ian Butler, director of market research for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. "Plus, polypropylene has an incredible affinity for oil to the extent that once the boom comes in contact with oil, it will displace the water that has moved into the boom's interior. The technology uses meltblown polypropylene as the oil absorbent because the meltblown fiber diameter is extremely fine and cumulatively presents a large surface to attract and hold onto the oil."

"We have just begun to see an increased demand for some of our meltblown sorbent products from a number of companies and we expect to see this demand continue for at least the next seven months," said Ken Forden, director of sales and marketing for Johns Manville's engineered products North American business.

Producers of these devices are reporting that demand for these materials is by far outweighing supply, so much so, in fact that the absorbent booms, which are generally stuffed with scrap meltblown materials, are soon going to be stuffed with first-grade materials. This will drive costs, which have already tripled in the last month, even higher.

"The requirements are so strong, that they are literally running out of the material," said William Krupka, U.S. agent for Turkish sorbents maker Mogul.

These floating booms are being used to keep the leaking oil from reaching the shore but as recently as this weekend, there have been reports of oil being found near Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands. Officials estimate that 5000 barrels of oil per day are pouring out of the leak which stems from an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig leased by the oil company BP, that killed 11 crew members and caused the tanker to sink about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.