Sprinkling Sawdust Over Troubled Waters

Every year, hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil spill into the world's oceans--fouling coastlines and killing birds and sea life. Thomas B. Reed, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, has a solution: sawdust. Reed and business partner William L. Mobeck have devised a proprietary heat treatment that modifies the porous structure of sawdust so that it absorbs oil and repels water.

The oil-sopping product, called Sea Sweep, can be applied by a blower or dropped from planes in breakaway bags. One ton of Sea Sweep can absorb at least 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of crude, Reed says. And after drinking its fill, Sea Sweep congeals into balls that float on the surface and can be suctioned up, then burned as industrial fuel. A Denver company, Sea Sweep Inc., will market the product, which should soon be available for around $1,800 a ton. Besides tackling spills, Sea Sweep could be used to fill the void between the hulls of double-hulled tankers to try to capture crude before it leaks.

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