A Hairy Solution to Oil Spills

I just looked it up: 12 years ago I wrote a story on how human hair could be used to soak up spilled oil. (My article was published in a German science magazine, but I could not find a digital version posted online). What sounds like a hair-brained idea actually has merit.

Looks like after the terrible (and still ongoing) spillage in the Gulf of Mexico, the concept is being talked about again. It was originally proposed by a nifty Alabama barber, and Chemists at NASA ran promising tests. The surface structure of hair (from humans or animals — but especially human hair) is ideally suited to soak up large quantities of oil.

Calculations have shown that 10 tons of  human hair, held together in floating cushions, could collect and bind about 600,000 liters of oil. Afterwards, the cushions could simply be collected and burned.

Best of all, the raw material is plentiful. Tons of human hair ends up on the floors of barbers and hairdressers every day. The only problem is that nobody is collecting and storing hair clippings on a large scale. Instead, they are thrown out with the trash. Which is regrettable! Had the idea been implemented during last decade, we could now have a readily available stockpile of hair, to be deployed at catastrophic spills such as the current one.

Hairy, indeed.

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