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From Oil to Asphalt: How a Powder Could Turn the Gulf Slick Into Future Highways

Gulf oil spill

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Brian Merchant of Treehugger is reporting on location about the efforts to contain the Gulf oil spill (seen here in a photo taken this morning by astronaut Soichi Noguchi from the International Space Station). The latest idea to prevent the slick caused by the explosion on the BP rig last month from reaching land is certainly ingenious. It consists of using a chemical formula called C.I. Agent that, when added to oil, turns it into a gelatinous compound that can then be used to make asphalt. The firm’s CEO, Dan Parker, was on hand at Dauphin Island to demonstrate to Merchant just how the powder works.

The U.S. Army, which is coordinating the clean-up, has put up Hesco baskets filled with the C.I. Agent powder in the water along the northwest shore of the island. They will be filled with the powder and then, when the slick reaches the baskets, turn the oil into gelatin. If successful, the resulting rubbery polymer can then be deployed either in landfill, or re-used to make all sorts of products, from disposable cups, through condoms and glues.

Twelve years in development, C.I. Agent has been used successfully as an aid to cleaning up oil leaks, but it’s unproven on a disaster of this scale. Parker claims the chemical is environmentally friendly–it’s unclear whether the same can be said for Corexit, the EPA-approved chemical being used in the cleanup already.

More Coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill

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My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S

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