Nonwovens In the Gulf. Can They Help?

By Karen Bitz McIntyre, Editor | July 14, 2010

As efforts to cap a massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico continue to suffer setbacks, the world is on the edge of its seat to see how this environmental catastrophe is going to play out.

Will precious marshlands along the Gulf Coast—and the wildlife that inhabit them—be destroyed for generations? Will the leakage expand into new areas? And, what will be the fate of the U.S. oil drilling industry and its impact on fuel prices moving forward?

As we wait for answers and solutions to this disaster, the nonwovens industry once again has been asked to help. Among the many materials and devices being utilized to protect the sensitive Gulf Coast from the largest oil spill in history are adsorbent “booms” primarily made from polypropylene and cotton nonwovens. These booms basically consist of a meltblown nonwoven tube filled with a number of different materials. The booms are laid down in the water and their properties attract and adsorb the oil from the water better than any other known similar product.

“Nonwovens companies are producing the products that are proving most successful in adsorbing the oil that is flowing out of the BP well,” said Rory Holmes, president of INDA. “Many have stepped up production to meet this incredible, unforeseen demand for meltblown nonwovens.”

From a technical perspective, polypropylene meltblown nonwovens are proving to be particularly effective because their specific gravity is lighter than water, so the booms are able to float on the water’s surface, but other materials like cotton are also being used in the effort as it does not absorb water, floats on the surface of water and has a great affinity for oil. Several nonwoven processes can convert raw cotton into very effective oil sorbents.

On page 26, associate editor Sandra Levy tackles this subject in her story, Nonwovens’ New Role: Gulf Coast’s Lifeline. She speaks to suppliers and converters of polypropylene and cotton nonwovens to get insight on how nonwovens are helping to keep oil at bay as well as their thoughts on how they could help more. As always, we appreciate your comments.

Karen McIntyre

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