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Cleaning oil spills with paper mill sludge

26 February 2013

Eco-innovation is at its best when the waste of one industry becomes the raw material of another. Waste sludge from the paper industry is a prime example.

The objective of the EU funded research project, CAPS, is to convert this waste into a highly absorbent material capable of cleaning up oil and chemical spills. 

About 18 million tons of paper mill sludge is produced annually in the EU. Most of it is disposed of by burning; but this could soon change.

Franc Cernec, project leader at the Technological, Environmental and Logistic Centre in Koper, Slovenia came up with an innovative idea almost 17 years ago to reuse this by-product of the paper industry. “I knew about the high absorption rate of paper mill sludge for years, so I thought, why not use these characteristics and turn the waste into a useful product.”

Petrol stations, car parks, laboratories and harbours could all soon use the new absorbent. Indeed, it is capable of absorbing any oil or fluid spilled on hard or water surfaces. As a by-product of the paper industry, its main benefit is that it is much cheaper to produce than any synthetic absorbent currently in use.

The first marine outdoor test has been successfully concluded in Koper harbour. In less than three minutes the absorbent surrounded by hydrophobic gauze absorbed about one litre of bio-diesel floating on the water surface. Another test was successfully conducted at a petrol station near Ljubljana, where accidentally spilled fuel was absorbed with the same efficiency as a conventional absorbent.

Finland and several South American countries have now expressed interest in starting production of paper mill sludge absorbent.

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