Aquatic Oil Spill Clean-Up in Non-Quiescent Conditions

Friday, February 12, 2016
Abigail L. Myers, Big Walnut High School, Sunbury, OH
Accidental oil spills in non-quiescent aquatic environments require effective clean-up methods. This experiment examined the ability of synthetic (polypropylene, polyurethane, and polyester) and natural organic (cotton, straw, and sawdust) sorbents to remove oil from water in non-quiescent conditions through absorption and/or adsorption. Trials were conducted in two stages, test: hydrophobicity, oleophilicity.  Myers’ previous experimentation led to the hypothesis: polyester and cotton will sink while polypropylene, polyurethane, straw, and sawdust will float.  Trials were conducted to test hydrophobicity, adding 1.5g of sorbent to a wave tank containing only water.  Polyester and sawdust sank completely, rendering them useless. Polypropylene, polyurethane, cotton, and straw remained on the water surface. Experimental work supported the hypothesis for polyester, and disproved it for cotton and sawdust.  Additional research led to the hypothesis:  Cotton will most effectively remove oil from water, followed by polypropylene, polyurethane, and straw. Polypropylene, polyurethane, cotton and straw were tested in a second set of trials to evaluate effectiveness of oil removal in non-quiescent conditions. One and a half grams of each sorbent was placed in a wave tank containing 22 liters of 20°C water and 20 ml of oil.  Each sorbent was retrieved after 5 minutes and masses of each determined.  Individual sorbent oil mass ratios (mass of used sorbent containing recovered oil: mass dry sorbent) were calculated for the 40 trials. Cotton, with a mean oil mass ratio of 10.6 (σ=0.5), removed the most oil, followed by polypropylene (9.5, σ=0.4), polyurethane (6.8, σ=0.4), and straw (5.5, σ=0.3), supporting the hypothesis.