A Comparative Study Of Oil Absorbents Biology Essay

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Oil as a natural resource is very abundant here on earth. Many oil deposits are scattered around the globe. Export of oil is done largely through oil tankers from continent to continent. An unfortunate accident of one of these tankers may cause oil spill which can create serious environmental problems. A large oil spill can cause heavy damage and will be toxic to marine life, resources which man use as food, thus having also an effect on human life. Because of the damage and the resulting toxicity of these oil spills, there is a need to clean the spills. Various ways are used to clean spills like using dispersants, vacuums and skimmers.

Cleaning and absorption of commercial oil spills costs a lot of money. Sometimes, unpredictable weather hampers the cleaning of oil spills. This study will test the absorption potential of various organic waste materials like sawdust, wood chips, hair, and coconut fiber. These organic materials are inexpensive and readily available in our country thus help reduce the cost of cleaning oil spills. The researchers want to research if there are any available absorbent materials here in the Philippines except coconut fiber and hair that absorbs oil effectively so that the government would not spend too much on commercial absorbents and heavy equipment. The researchers want to know if the waste materials which can be used in peoples' daily lives can also be good oil spill absorbers. If the researchers successfully discover other materials that can

effectively absorb oil, the researchers will compare which one is better than the other.

B. Statement of the Problem

The absorption ability of woodchips, hair, coconut fiber, and sawdust as oil absorbents will be investigated. It will then be determined and compared.

Sub- problems

How much amount of crude oil will be absorbed by a.) Woodchips? b.) hair? c.) coconut fiber? and d.) Sawdust?

Do woodchips, hair, sawdust, and coconut fiber have properties similar to that of a good oil absorber in a) pure crude oil only? b) a mixture of crude oil and water?

C. Hypotheses

Alternate Hypotheses

Null Hypotheses

1) Woodchips, hair, coconut fiber and sawdust have a significant difference in their absorption abilities.

1) Woodchips, hair, coconut fiber and sawdust do not have a significant difference in their absorption abilities.

2) Hair has the most ability to absorb crude oil in sea water than the rest of the materials.

2) Hair has the least ability to absorb crude oil in seawater than the rest of the materials.

3) Woodchips have the most ability to absorb crude oil than the rest of the materials.

3) Woodchips have the least ability to absorb crude oil than the rest of the materials.

4) Sawdust and woodchips have a significant difference in their absorption ability in a) crude oil b) mixture of sea water and crude oil.

4) Sawdust and woodchips have almost no significant difference in their absorption ability in a) crude oil b) mixture of sea water and crude oil.


D. Objective of the Study

This study aims to determine whether woodchips, hair, coconut fiber, and sawdust can be used as a good oil absorber. Specifically it aims to:

Determine the absorption ability of the different materials.

Compare the difference in the absorption ability of the materials.

Verify if the difference is significant or not using the post-hoc test statistic.

E. Significance of the Study

Commercial oil spill absorbents cost a lot of money and are barely available in our country. This study is a way to determine whether woodchips, hair, coconut fiber and sawdust can be used as alternative oil spills absorbents. It would also be beneficial to our society since these organic products are wastes from parlors and barber shops, wood industry and farms. Instead of throwing these waste products which will add to pollution, these materials can be made environment friendly and used as cheap oil spill absorbents. If proven effective, businessmen can benefit from this study especially if their business is related to the sea or oil. The businessmen benefit from this because small businessmen like the fishermen depend their living on the sea and if the oil spill could be stop quicker and more effective by using these newly discovered absorbents, then they would not lose all their business. Oil companies can also benefit from this study. If the tanker containing lots of oil which is owned by an oil company had a leakage of oil, the oil can be retrieve back easily. The government benefit from this study, too because they would not spend too much by buying heavy equipment and commercial absorbents. Instead, the government will encourage people to use natural oil spill absorbents.


Families living near the coast lines may also benefit from this study if successful. Although sources say some these materials are already being used as oil absorbent but still, this has to be proven yet by the researchers.

F. Scope and Limitations of the Study

This study covers the capability of woodchips, hair, coconut fiber, and sawdust to absorb oil. Two set ups for each material will be prepared. Each of the materials will be submerged in Set-up A: Crude oil only and Set-up B: a mixture of crude oil and sea water for 60 minutes in each set up. Other materials that are both in the crude oil and in the mixture that may affect the procedure of the experiment will not be covered. Most materials can be gathered in the country, woodchips and sawdust in lumber mills. Hair is gathered in parlors and barber shops. Coconut fibers are found in coconut farms. These materials do not cost much and widely available.

G. Definition of Terms

Absorbents general term for the materials used (coconut fiber, hair,

Sawdust and woodchips) specifically organic absorbents.

In the Study the absorption ability of the organic absorbent

Materials are to be compared by the volume of their

absorbed crude oil.


Absorption Ability the capacity of a material to absorb another substance. This will be the variable to be studied. This is measured by subtracting the oil left in the basin from the original volume of the oil.

Coconut fiber a product which is extracted from the outer shell of the coconut product. In this study coconut fiber is one of the products to be tested for its potential as an oil spill absorber.

Hair thin fibers that grow on most mammals. Hair will also be used in this study for its potential as an oil spill absorbent.

Crude oil is a naturally-occurring flammable liquid found beneath the

Earth's surface. This will be the substance to be absorbed

by the organic absorbents in measuring the absorption

ability of the organic absorbents.


Sawdust is a by-product of cutting lumber; these are fine wood particles that are created by cutting with saw. In this study sawdust is one of the products to be tested for its potential as an oil spill absorber.

Seawater water coming from the oceans, usually salinated. Sea water will be mixed with crude oil to simulate the absorption ability of the organic materials in the seas.

Wood chips are medium sized blocks of wood which are made by cutting or chipping large blocks of wood to smaller ones. In this study wood chips are one of the products to be tested for its potential as an oil spill absorber.




Organic Absorbent materials are usually naturally-occurring and are carbon-based materials. These materials are able to absorb several time their mass in oil. Organic absorbents may absorb an amount of water in addition to oil, which can cause the absorbent to sink. Most organic absorbent materials for oil is said to be Hydrophobic (the ability to repel water) and oleophilic (the ability to attract oil). Absorbents are defined as materials able to capture liquid throughout their molecular structure, making the absorbent swell to at least 50 percent more in size. (E-How, 1999-2011)

There are certain properties for a material to become a good absorbent. These materials should be able to undergo the Capillary action. The Capillary action is the process by which liquids flow into porous materials or thin tubes due to surface tension. (E-how: Facts _Something Absorbent, 1999-2011). Good absorbents must have low density, a fibrous structure and exhibit good wicking properties (the ability to transfer liquids).(porex, patents, 2004-2011)

Petroleum is a thick flammable and usually dark-colored liquid fuel found deep below the Earth's surface or occasionally in springs and pools at the surface. It is composed mainly of combinations of hydrogen and carbon called hydrocarbons, along with organic compounds containing sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen in varying amounts.(Encyclopedia Americana , 2004-2005) It is obvious that absorbent materials are porous and has pores (small holes).But organic absorbent materials mostly consists of fibrous strands. (Globalspills.com, 2011)


An oil spill is an accidental release of petroleum or petroleum products. There are many ways of an oil spill to occur. Equipment breaking down may cause an oil spill. If an oil spill tanker sticks on a shallow land, when they start to drive the tanker again it may cause a hole in the tanker causing it to leak. Natural conduits may cause oil spill too. A hurricane or a tsunami could cause an oil tanker to flip over, causing to pour oil out. An oil spill can really destroy the wildlife of that particular area. Birds die from oil spills if their feathers are covered in oil. The birds will to clean themselves, causing for them to be poisoned. In other ways, oil enters the lungs and liver causing it to be also poisoned. Oil can also kill an animal by blinding it. The animal will not be able to see and be aware of predators so they may be eaten. Sometimes, oil spills are the reason for animals, in or out of the water, to become endangered. Sea Otters are also affected by oil an Otter gets covered in oil; it builds up in the otter's air bubbles. These air bubbles are located in the fur which helps them survive underwater, in the cold oceans. If it is filled up with oil, the otter may die due to hypothermia or very low body temperature. There are really many animals affected by an oil spill raging from plankton to even whales! (ThinkQuest, 2002) Humans are also affected by an oil spill, both economically and medically. Fishes, shrimps, squids, are caught by humans to earn money by selling them. If the animals are poisoned by oil, no one would buy them and the sellers would not have any sales. No sales, no money. If people would be exposed to crude oil to long, it may cause serious ailments and death. If a person smells the oil, the air would go to the brain and if it continues it will cause brain cancer, stroke and other ailments. (Grolier Encyclopedia, 1995)


Worldwide oil spill Levels table: Volume of oil and number of oil spills (2007, 2008, and 2009):

(Reference: Hess CSR 2009 Annual Report-Environmental Performance,2009)

There are many ways to prevent the spread of oil in the ocean. Workers can place a boom around the tanker that is spilling oil. Booms look like floating sausages tied together. They are barriers used to contain oil spills in the ocean. A boom may be placed somewhere before an oil spill gets there. They can be placed around an entrance to the ocean, like a stream. They also can be placed around a habitat with many animals living there. These booms will absorb any oil that flows around it. The workers can also use skimmers. Skimmers are boats that can remove the oil off the water. Sorbents are sponges that can collect the oil. An airplane can fly over the ocean, dropping chemical products like Corexit 9500. The chemicals can disperse the oil in the ocean. They also can burn freshly spilled oil with fireproof booms to contain the oil. They burning of the oil is not advised since it adds to air pollution. There are just few ways to clean the oil off the


beaches coastlines. Workers can use high or low pressure hoses to spray the oil that is on the

beaches. Vacuum trucks may be driven on the beaches to vacuum up the oil. They can also simply use shovels or road equipment to collect all the oil off the beaches. The method they use to clean the beaches or oceans depends on many things. They have to look at the weather, the type and amount of oil spilled, if people live in that area, what types of animals live in that area, and many more things. In some situations, they may not react to a spill. It may not be helpful or it would just cause even more damage to that habitat. These absorbent materials are not available in the country, so we use organic absorbent materials like sawdust, hair, woodchips, and coconut fiber. (Oil Spills, Think Quest, 2002)

A plane feeding Chemical Oil Dispersants into the ocean. (oilblogcentral.wordpress, May 2010)

Sawdust is one of the most useful by products on the planet. It is pieces of wood chunks which are made by cutting free with a saw. It has many uses including the ability of absorbing oil. In Ancient Egypt, the people there honor the dead by a process called mummification and usually


around the 40th day of mummification, the body which his/her insides were removed, is stuffed with sawdust and leaves to make it "human-shaped". Buckets of sawdust were necessary cargo

on old sailing ships, just in case for any passenger or sailor suffering from sea sickness. Sawdust is also used in keeping small caged pets like hamsters, gerbils, mice and pet rats. Now sawdust is effective in cleaning an oil spill. Sawdust can be prepared in a way that it absorbs oil and repels water. It will absorb 3 ½ times its weight in oil and that's for a day until it is retrieved by the cleaners. At the same time, it does not stick to anything not even on bird's feathers. The sawdust, soaked in oil can be used as a fuel furnace. (42 Amazing Facts About Sawdust, BBC, 2007)

Human hair is very efficient oil absorbent. It gathers oil from the scalp, the face and places where oil is produced. The hair "clings" into each strand's tiny scales of hair instead of soaking up as what absorbents do. Each hair strand has a large surface area, on which the oil coats itself to. Hair was used in the Guimaras oil spill in the Philippines in the year 2006. Everyone volunteered to cut their hair for the absorbing of oil, even the prisoners donated their hair. Way back in 1989 in Madison, Alabama a hair dresser with a name Philip McCrory popularized the hair-as-an-oil-absorbent concept. He experimented with human hairs as an oil sponge to soak up a mock oil spill he created in his son's plastic pool. The water was clean within minutes. Now, he approached NASA and told them about this discovery. NASA scientist experimented and discovered hair is really a good oil spill absorbent. This was applied in the cleaning of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and estimated 1.4 million pounds of hair soaked up 11 million gallons of oil. (Human Hair: A Highly Absorbent Material to Clean Off Oil Spill , 2006)

Coconut fibers are natural fiber taken from coconut husk then cleaned and compressed into


bales mostly used as raw material. Coconut fiber a high lining content and thus a low cellulose

content, as a result of which it is resilient, strong and highly durable. The remarkable lightness of the fibers is due to the cavities arising from the dried out sieve cells. Coconut fiber belongs to the class of compounds known as flammable solids. It easily catches fire upon ignition, so keep external sources of potential ignition, such as sparks, matches and lit cigarettes, away from coconut fiber at all times.(Wikipedia, 2011)


This study basically aims to discover the potential of hair, coconut fiber, woodchips, and sawdust to be good oil absorbents. The materials used in this study are highly available in the Philippines, because of its tropical climate, crops like corn and trees like coconuts are found in most areas. Hair is not a problem, because barber shops give them for free. Woodchips and sawdust can be gathered from lumber mills in the city. These materials are not expensive and some of them are waste byproducts of industrial activity and are being thrown away because it has no use anymore. In the study, these materials are submerge in two set ups, 1.)Set-up A with pure crude oil and 2.) Set-up B with a mixture of crude oil and seawater, for 60 minutes each in three trials. After submerging the materials, the oil absorbed will be extracted and placed into plastic cups and the volume of the absorbed oil will be measured by graduated cylinders. All of these will be repeated for the 3 trials.

A Related study was conducted by Charisse J. Regencia and Elmera Jennica Omisol using hair and coconut fiber only. The study had 3 set-ups 1.) Hair and coconut fiber submerged in Crude


oil only. 2.) Hair and coconut fiber in Seawater only. 3.) Hair and coconut fiber in a mixture of Crude oil and Seawater. Each of the Materials were submerge for only 45 minutes.

(wala pami results ma'am wa namo na copy)




A. Research Design

To achieve the objective of this study, an experiment is to be made to compare the absorption ability of hair, coconut fiber, saw dust and woodchip. Two set-ups will be prepared. Set-up A contained pure crude oil and Set-up B is a combination of seawater and crude oil. Three trials were done for each set-up. The collected data from these trials were recorded and used to know the mean and student t distribution. Statistical tools will be used to get the absorption ability of the materials as well as to determine which is the most effective in absorbing oil among the absorbents.

B. Materials and Equipments

Materials Equipments

Coconut fiber 5 graduated cylinder

Hair 5 funnels

Woodchips 2 strainers

Sawdust 1 triple beam balance

1 stirring rod

10L crude oil 3 beaker

5L seawater 30 plastic cups

10 basins

Meshed net


C. Experimental Set-up

Two set-ups to correspond for three trials will be used to compare the absorption ability of the different absorbents namely: coconut fiber, woodchips, hair and sawdust. Set-up A with pure crude oil only, Set-up B mixture of seawater and crude oil. All absorbents will be exposed to all the treatments.

Table 1 Composition of the Two Set-ups


Set-Up A

Set-Up B

Crude oil (mL)



Seawater (mL)



D. Experimental Procedure

Preparation of Materials

Coconut fibers are collected from coconut farms and markets in the country. Hair is found in barber shops and salons. Sawdust and woodchips from lumber mills. Ten basins and thirty plastic cups are to be used as containers for the absorbed oil. Five graduated cylinders will be used to measure the volume of the remaining oil in the container.

Preparation of Substances

- Five liters of crude oil will be set aside for set-up A, and 2.5L of crude oil and seawater for set-up B.

Preparation of the Absorbent Materials

- Each absorbent material will be placed in a container with equal volumes. Coconut fiber, hair, sawdust and woodchip. The containers will be wrapped in plastic nets and ready for the experimentation.


Testing the Absorbents

Submerge the bags in each set-up A for 1 hour, after 1 hour remove the bags and let the liquid drain for 10 seconds. Transfer the absorbent materials to plastic cups .Measure the amount of oil left in the basins of each material in each set-up using graduated cylinders, then subtract it from the original volume of crude oil in the set-up. Collect the data, repeat the process for 3 trials each in both set-ups and list the data in the tables below. Write the conclusion for the problem of the study. Set aside the materials for future use.

E. Procedures/Instrument in Data Gathering

Tools in gathering data: table

Table 1: Amount of Oil Extracted by Each Material in Set-up A with pure crude oil






Coconut Fibre





Corn Husk





















Table 2: Amount of Oil Extracted by Each Material in Set-up B with a mixture or crude oil and seawater






Coconut Fibre





Corn Husk




















F. Statistical Tools for Data Analysis *

The data that will be gathered will be analyzed and interpreted to get the overall amount of substance absorbed per treatment for each type of absorbent material. The weighted mean will be employed to find the amount of substance absorbed. ANOVA will be used in order to know if there is a significant difference among absorbent materials.


The average of the numbers. The mean of each substance will be compared in the

Analysis of Variance.



∑X = the sum of all the obtained data

N = the total number of data samples

ANOVA (Analysis of Variance)

Source of Variation

Sum of


Degrees of Freedom

Mean Squares

Test Statistic

Absorbents SSA k-1 MSA MSA





(k-1) + (N-k)










F =


Post Hoc Analysis

Tukey's Significant Difference or HSD test will be used for the determination of the significant difference between the materials after the analysis of variance. It is designed to test all pair wise comparisons among the means.


M = is the means of the different materials

MSW = is the Mean Square Within or Mean Square Error

n = the number of materials used


Prototype for the case of the absorbent materials

Flow Chart of Procedures:

Interpretation of gathered data

Testing the Absorbents

Listing and Analysis of Data




Coconut Fiber

Preparation and production of absorbents in their containers

Preparation of Materials