Cleaning up oil spills with hair via Science Everyday

Adsorption of oil with hair is the adhesion of atoms, ions or molecules from a gas, liquid or dissolved solid to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent.

What this means is that hair allows oil to coat, hence effectively absorbing it. And given the surface area, cheap costs, and renewability of hair, this is a great solution.

Hair clippings are a low-tech, yet remarkably effective method to tidy up oil spills In fact, a San Francisco-based environmental non-profit organisation, Matter of Trust, has collected donations of thousands of pounds of human hair to clean up after the thousands of oil spills that happen each year.

Oil spills are an example of the havoc humanity often wreaks on the environment. In the last thirty odd years, the issue of oil spills and their effects has become a much talked about topic (And for all the wrong reasons).

So, how does an oil spill happen?

Oil spills happens when liquid petroleum is released into the environment by vehicle, vessel or pipeline.

It happens on a large scale and is mostly seen in water bodies. We’re not talking about a few litres here and there. We’re talking about millions of litres of oil spilling into the ocean.

Take the case of the M/T Haven Tanker Oil Spill. This devastating event watched approximately 45 million litres of oil fall into the ocean. Not only is this a significant loss, but the damages inflicted upon the environment have long lasting consequences.

And this is just one oil spill out of the many. Hundreds of oil spills take place every year. The news of many which don’t even reach us. Crude oil can be released by tankers on land. In water bodies, the spill occurs due to drilling rigs, offshore oil platforms and wells.

While the sources of oil spills are many, the solutions are limited.

Oil floats on water and prevents sunlight to pass through it. The shiny substance that you see sometimes on top layer of water is nothing but oil which makes it difficult for plants and sea animals to survive.

Underwater plants die. Oil weighs down the wings of birds that can no longer fly easily. It contaminates food, water and destroys the entire ecosystem.

See the source image
Birds struggling in oily water. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-gulf-anniversary-20150418-story.html

Unfortunately, cleaning up of oil spill is no easy task. Various factors need to be considered before carrying out operations. Some of them being amount of oil spilled, temperature of water, type of beaches and many more.

Currently methods used involve skimmers, dispersants an bio degradant technology. But is there a better way?

The answer lies in your hair.

Have you ever noticed how your hair becomes greasy when you don’t wash it for a while? Why does this happen? It happens because hair is adsorbent.

Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions or molecules from a gas, liquid or dissolved solid to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent.

What this means is that hair allows oil to coat, hence effectively absorbing it. And given the surface area, cheap costs, and renewability of hair, this is a great solution.

Hair can also be washed repeatedly and this does not damage its ability to absorb oil. The average person takes around 150 haircuts in their lifetime. Hair is low-cost, easily available and a great alternative to chemical treatments.

This idea was the brainchild of Phil McCrory, a former hairdresser from Alabama and it has the potential to change the environment completely.

One of the most important takeaways from this, is how simple solutions can be used to bring around large change. I hope this encourages each one of you to try learning new things. Because, the solution of the biggest global problems lie in the simplest, most unassuming of places. And it might even be your barber’s floor.

-Adyesha Singhdeo

References

https://www.sciencealert.com/could-human-hair-be-used-to-clean-up-oil-spills

Donate Your Hair to Clean Up the Oil Spill

 

How Are Oil Spills Cleaned Up?

Cleaning oil spills with hair

Bringing innovative solutions to life.

 Hair clippings are a low-tech, yet remarkably effective method to tidy up oil spills In fact, a San Francisco-based environmental non-profit organisation, Matter of Trust, has collected donations of thousands of pounds of human hair to […]

via Cleaning up oil spills with hair — Science Everyday

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