BAD ZURZACH, Switzerland (Reuters Life!) - Yards of unassuming white fabric made by a Swiss company may be just the technology needed to help clean up the Gulf of Mexico's oil-drenched coastlines.
HeiQ, which makes the coatings to render synthetic fabrics odor-free for leisure clothing companies like Mammut and Puma, has developed a fleece that can absorb oil in water.
The oil guard -- which looks like a heavy felt -- is water resistant and can absorb up to seven times its weight in crude oil, HeiQ Chief Executive Carlo Centonze told Reuters, adding that the textile is coated with various secret products, among them a plant oil.
The company already has an oil and water-repellent jacket.
A team of five employees came up with the idea for the oil guard by reversing the technology used in the jacket shortly after BP's rig exploded in the Gulf, killing 11 men and damaging tourism, fisheries and fragile ecosystems, Centonze said.
Along with its German partner TWE, HeiQ can each day produce enough of the fleece to cover up to 10 km of coastline. Absorbing a barrel of oil costs about $590 dollars plus $1,500 in related labor costs, less than conventional methods for cleaning beaches, he said.
"It's not a wonder weapon but it's something to be used for saving beaches," said Centonze, sitting at a conference table and taking a sip from an espresso. "I don't want to say we'll be able to solve all the oil problems, only that we can help along the beaches."
The company has conducted tests in the U.S. state of Alabama, and also received word that Mexico's state oil company Pemex was also interested, Centonze said.
Once the oil guard is soaked full of oil, it can be rolled up and replaced. Cement-maker Holcim has agreed to collect the used fleeces and burn them in its incinerators, he said.