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Giant Plastic Maxi Pad Could Clean Up Oil Spills

While the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is in our collective rearview mirror, the countdown has begun to our next senseless, ecologically shattering oil spill, which is really not an “if” but a “when.” In an instance of not quite so cold comfort, though, we may have a better way to clean up the next spill. A team of scientists at Penn State has proposed a new cleanup method — massive polymer sheets that float on water and can sop up as much as 40 times their own weight in spilled oil.

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In principle, the pads — which are described in detail in journal Energy & Fuels — are a pretty cool idea. The polymer sheets promise to be easy to deploy; just roll them off of a boat and onto an oil slick and let them do their work of absorbing oil and turning it into a semi-solid gel. Since the absorbent pads only soak up oil, and not water, that gel could still be harvested and refined, stemming losses for oil producers. Because let’s all keep in mind, the people who lost all that oil are the real victims in any spill. Just look at their faces! You can see how sorry they are. Aw, let’s give them another massive and unnecessary subsidy for doing the thing that is the only reason they are a business.

There are a lot of questions that the study doesn’t yet answer, like what the pads would cost, or how long they would take to do their work. That last one especially is an area of concern ecologically. While oil soaked pads sitting atop acres of water are probably better for the environment than an oil slick just hanging out, we’d want to see how much better they are before we bet the farm on this new technique making oil spills a thing of the past.

(via Azom, image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

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