Great Lakes Companies Offer Oil Cleanup Ideas

Unconventional tools sift tar balls, soak up oil

By Kate Allt
|  Wednesday, Jul 7, 2010  |  Updated 10:27 AM CDT
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Monterey Mills demonstrates the absorbency of their 100 percent wool fabric.

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They might be hundreds of miles removed from disaster, but a couple of Midwestern companies are among the many offering up ideas to help clean the oil-coated beaches of the Gulf Coast.

Among them is Gravely of Chicago, a mower company based in Lake Barrington.  The company has sent a small crew to Pensacola, Fla., to demonstrate the contraption it claim helps clean debris and litter from beaches.

The Sand Cleaner is an attachment that hooks onto a two-wheel, self-propelled tractor. The device digs four inches into the ground, sifts the sand and separates any solids into a removable container.

"We’ve been showing the equipment to the Air Force in the area and to the Mayor of Louisiana," said Gravely's owner, Jill Halloran. "We’ll be down there for another week or so, traveling through Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida."

A 34-inch machine, Halloran says the equipment is perfect for tight areas and for cleaning the "tar balls" that wash up on the Gulf shores.  The Sand Cleaner is capable of cleaning up to one acre of beach per hour, Halloran said.

Meanwhile, a knit pile fabric manufacturing company in Janesville, Wis., has come up with what may seem like an even simpler solution -- wool.  Monterey Mills has produced the oil-absorbing fabric for years, and has posted a video to YouTube demonstrating its capabilities in hopes of gaining federal attention.

"We’re a very large company that specializes in industrial fabric manufacturing," said company president Daniel Sinykin.  "We make the fabric on the end of paint rollers, a fabric that needs to absorb oil without absorbing water, which we think is a perfect solution to the oil spill."

Similar to their YouTube demonstration, Sinykin says the use of the fabric would be relatively simple.  A patrol boat would pull the fabric across the water and reeled in when the captain felt the wool was fully saturated. 

The 100 percent wool fabric can absorb seven times its weight, or around 30 pounds of oil per yard, Sinykin said.  The company can produce enough of the fabric to salvage 20 miles of beachfront every day.

But the good news doesn’t end there, as Sinykin says there are many options for use of the wool after it's done its dirty work.  The fabric could either be cleansed and reused or incinerated in a coal plant to generate energy.  A third option, he claimed, is to leave the biodegradable product to decompose and restore oil to the soil, which BP could then reclaim.

It took months to get BP's attention, but the oil company finally contacted Monterey Mills in July for a demonstration. Sinykin met BP representatives in a special meeting July 7 in Pensacola to test their product.

"We feel terrible for all the people being affected down there," Sinykin said.  "Anyone that has the capacity to help should be using all the resources that they can. That’s what we want to do."

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