Professor talks about organic absorbents for oil cleanup

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Since the recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico all sorts of possible solutions have surfaced to help cleanup efforts. The latest is two guys out of Walton County, Florida who have just been granted a contract to use their hay method across 26 miles of beaches in the sunshine state.

In a video posted to YouTube, the gentlemen from Florida explain that the process starts offshore with tug boats and barges spreading or blowing the hay over the oil. Then the hay would get picked up later by skimmers or fish nets and finally taken to a simulator to be converted into energy.

Plant Environmental and Soil Science Professor Gary Breitenbeck has been looking into responding to disasters like this for nearly a decade. 9News asked him if organic absorbents like hay could really do the trick.

"Most of them have the ability to absorb large amounts of oil very rapidly," said Breitenbeck. "The problem with many of them is it degrades so rapidly that within a month or so they re-release the oil back into the environment."

Breitenbeck has a shelf full of potential organic absorbents in his lab that he says could work, but bagasse, the fibrous residue from crushed sugarcane, stands out among them all.

Breitenbeck says it could work on beaches and barrier islands, but in the marsh he says it is impossible.

"Even foot traffic on those unconsolidated sediments in the marsh mixes in the oil with the soil and causes the plants to die more readily," Breitenbeck added.

Breitenbeck claims the key is in getting the absorbent out to the affected area and to remove it as soon as the oil is absorbed. That means if these guys are going to be part of the solution they will have to move quickly.

Louisiana farmers may not be so quick to donate their hay. The State Department of Agriculture said Louisiana is currently experiencing a hay shortage.

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