An Alabama hairdresser is making oily hair his specialty. Phillip McCrory has devised a technique to clean up oil spills with hair trimmings. The technique is now being refined at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The system could eventually mean quicker and less expensive cleanups.
McCrory was first inspired while watching coverage of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill where he saw a rescued otter whose fur was soaked with oil. Being in the business of hair, he began to speculate that human hair might also be able to trap spilled oil.
His first experiment involved five pounds of hair from the beauty salon floor stuffed into his wife’s pantyhose and floated in his son’s wading pool. Tied in a ring, the pantyhose successfully trapped the motor oil McCrory poured into the water. Human hair adsorbs, rather than absorbs, oil. In other words, the oil does not bond with the hair and can easily be removed and reused.
Researchers at the flight center believe McCrory’s method has potential uses for NASA and other government agencies. Preliminary tests show that McCrory’s filter can adsorb a gallon of oil in two minutes, leaving a minimum of residue, and could reduce the cost of recovering oil by as much as 80 percent. Furthermore, the nylon collection bundles soaked with oil could be burned as fuel. Tests will be completed later this year.
Meanwhile, McCrory is investigating a patent and has founded his own company, BEPS Inc. of Madison, Ala. Not only has he found a better way to clean up oil spills, but also a commercial use for tons of human hair that is tossed in the trash everyday.