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Mopping up oil spills
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In Slovenia scientists are testing a new material which is thought to be able to absorb more than 99% of oil spilled on the water. The material they are testing, inside booms, is both ecologically friendly and very efficient because it is made of paper mill sludge.

This organic compound is a waste product produced when recycling paper, so there is plenty of it around. Every year the European Union produces more than six million tons of paper mill sludge, but until recently most of it was treated as useless waste.

But at this laboratory in Koper, Slovenia, the researchers were determined to find a use for it. This material has impressive properties. It can absorb around four times its own weight, which is about the same as other existing absorbents. But what makes it different is that it’s much cheaper than the alternatives.

And it is not only useful for mopping up oil spills on water. It could also be useful in petrol stations.

Franz Černec, from the Technological Environmental and Logistic Centre in Koper, Slovenia, said: “We can use it to clean up spills of all kinds of fluids, with different chemical properties. We can use it at petrol stations and anywhere else where spills are likely. It is impressively efficient and in comparison with other products we can use smaller quantities to achieve the same effect.”

The potential is huge. Scientists expect that up to a quarter of Europe’s paper mill sludge will eventually be recycled into this new absorbent material.

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