Can Glass Clean-up The Gulf Oil Spill? InsulSorb® Can!

The BP oil spill has become a focal point for most Americans, including, of course, our children. My daughter’s fifth grade teacher, who is very focused on environmental issues, read the blog we posted about our product InsulSorb and our efforts to bring the product to the Gulf to help with the clean-up efforts.  The teacher then contacted me and asked if I would visit the class to demonstrate the benefits of InsulSorb as a solution to cleaning up the Gulf. 

I viewed this as a great opportunity to use a current crisis taking place to show the students a product that has been developed right here, in their community, that can assist in protecting the fragile marine environment and shorelines impacted by the oil.

First, we discussed insulation and its value in the home and other buildings as the most practical way to save energy.  Then I showed them how fiberglass insulation is made from sand and glass that is melted and formed into glass fibers and finally, the various types of insulation, including fiberglass batts, blown insulation, and spray foam insulation.

For my demonstration, I took some InsulSafe, our blown insulation product, and placed it in a beaker of water and it sank.  Next, I created an oil slick on the water and added the InsulSafe.  While it did absorb the oil, it also absorbed water and sank. 

“What would we need to do to make the insulation work?” I asked the class. After some prompting, they replied, “it needs to float.”

I explained that I challenged our scientists in our Blue Bell, Pennsylvania technical center to develop a way to make ‘glass’ float. Through a series of experiments, they developed a special, proprietary process that enabled the insulation to float.  This became InsulSorb.

We continued the experiment by placing InsulSorb in a beaker of water, and indeed, it floated.  I added oil to the water and placed the InsulSorb on top of the oil. In a short time, the InsulSorb had absorbed all the oil, which could then be easily removed, leaving behind clean water.

So, how would InsulSorb be used in the Gulf? The product can be formed into booms to be used to both contain and soak up the oil or it can be blown on top of the oil slicks and scooped up from boats. It is possible to reclaim the oil by squeezing it out of the fiber, but it will likely be more expedient to incinerate the used product.  This product will absorb 30 times its weight of oil.

The students – future scientists, environmentalists, politicians and consumers – asked some insightful questions.

We continue to work with the decision-makers in the Gulf Coast to have them utilize our product as one, viable, solution to the clean-up effort.

InsulSorb© Could Soak up Oil Spill in the Gulf

InsulSorbThe oil spill in the Gulf has brought out thousands of inventors with ideas and solutions that could, potentially, soak up the oil floating through the ocean, disrupting the delicate balance of sea life, and heading for our southern shoreline.  However, there are some solutions that have been tried and tested but have not been deployed to anywhere near their full potential.

True, the most important action right now is to stop the oil flow and British Petroleum (BP) Oil, as well as agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been working tirelessly to accomplish that goal.

The hope is that whatever solutions they adopt to clean-up the spill will not cause additional environmental problems.

CertainTeed has worked with inventor Jeffrey Brelsford and his company S.E. Squared to develop unbonded, fiberglass blowing wool that can be used in booms and pads (and other methods such as direct application)  that are capable of absorbing oil spills on land or water. This fiberglass product is called InsulSorb©.

Because fiberglass is made from natural sand and rock, InsulSorb is environmentally neutral.  The Booms may also be fastened together for larger spills or the InsulSorb may be directly applied to the oil slick and reclaimed in order to treat very large and high-emergency spills such as the current Gulf spill.

InsulSorb’s other advantages include:

  • Absorbs 70 percent more than polypropylene, the product predominantly used in booms for oil spills today
  • 50 percent lighter than competitors products for easy handling and transport to spill sites
  • Dedicated production facilities for fiberglass
  • Can be recycled
  • Performs well in extreme temperatures

The advantage of this product as a solution for the current spill is that InsulSorb adsorbs more oil, is available in abundant supply and can be blown directly on the oil and collected by boat.  The logistical planning to blow the material onto the spill and collect it is the only possible challenge.

This product is one solution for cleaning up the oil spill that has been tested and used for more than 10 years, but if no one is coordinating the use of such products to begin the clean-up effort, the environmental balance, and the future of the fishing industry and tourism in that part of the country are doomed.

Mark Trabbold is Vice President, Research and Development for Insulation at CertainTeed Corporation