Researcher says chicken feathers may help in oil spill mitigation

Jun 09, 2010 by Diane Kukich

Researchers in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware have developed a method to mitigate oil spills using chicken feather fibers. Prof. Richard Wool has discovered that when the fibers are cut to an optimal size, surface tension forces drive them to form self-assembled percolating networks that attract and trap oil spilled on a water surface.

Preliminary tests have yielded promising results, and a provisional patent application has been filed on the technology.

The U.S. generates 5 to 6 billion pounds of feathers annually, an amount that Wool says could handle an oil spill covering some 200,000 square miles, or the entire economic zone of the Gulf of Mexico.

“The fibers are not attracted to the water,” Wool says, “but they are attracted to the oil, just as they are on live birds. And once a network of oil-soaked fibers is formed, it will reassemble, or restructure, even if it's temporarily broken up by wind or wave action.”

Although reports of feather use for oil spill remediation exist, the UD researchers have discovered how to maximize the of the oil-soaked feathers for absorption efficiency and effective subsequent removal. They have also discovered that the size of the fibers is critical -- too long and the fibers will fail to assemble; too short and they won't assemble correctly.

Preliminary experiments have been conducted to improve the science at the laboratory level, and Wool plans to conduct further tests at an ocean spill simulator in New Jersey.

The use of for useful products is not new to Wool. His ACRES (Affordable Composites from ) group has successfully used the fibers as reinforcement in for circuit boards.

Wool said the idea for their use in spill mitigation came to him while he was observing the behavior of food sticks thrown into a fish pond. He was further inspired after hearing a talk on self-assembly of nano-fibers by Kathleen Stebe, Richer and Elizabeth Goodwin Professor of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Stebe has since approached him about future collaboration in this area.

Explore further: Solar energy-driven process could revolutionize oil sands tailings reclamation

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Feather fibers fluff up hydrogen storage capacity

Jun 23, 2009

Scientists in Delaware say they have developed a new hydrogen storage method -- carbonized chicken feather fibers -- that can hold vast amounts of hydrogen, a promising but difficult to corral fuel source, and do it at a ...

Wanted: A sheep in sheep's clothing

Jun 06, 2006

Australian scientists say they are looking for the ugliest merino lambs they can find in a study that may challenge the dominance of synthetic fibers.

Estonian oil spill threatens 35,000 birds

Feb 07, 2006

As many as 35,000 birds, including rare white-tailed eagles and eagle owls, are in danger as the result of an oil spill off Estonia's northwest coast.

Recommended for you

Big changes in the Sargasso Sea

5 hours ago

Over one thousand miles wide and three thousand miles long, the Sargasso Sea occupies almost two thirds of the North Atlantic Ocean. Within the sea, circling ocean currents accumulate mats of Sargassum seawee ...

Water-quality trading can reduce river pollution

5 hours ago

Allowing polluters to buy, sell or trade water-quality credits could significantly reduce pollution in river basins and estuaries faster and at lower cost than requiring the facilities to meet compliance costs on their own, ...

Managing land into the future

9 hours ago

Food production is the backbone of New Zealand's economy—and a computer modelling programme designed by a Victoria University of Wellington academic is helping ensure that farming practices here and overseas ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Choice
not rated yet Jun 13, 2010
Could also be used to tar and feather! Seriously though, the oil/feather mixture becomes a type of fuel.