Properties of the product TowelieTM

Magazine for Textiles, Clothing, Leather and Technology Water beads up on the surface of TowelieTM. Designed for marine environments, TowelieTM can absorb oil while repelling water.

Making it sustainable

One application in which Ramkumar wanted the product to be usable was for marine oil spills – that meant it needed to be able to absorb oil without absorbing water. TowelieTM fulfills this goal.

While Ramkumar was working with WellGro United to determine the best iteration of the product, something of a revolution happened in the rest of the world – namely, plastic and microplastic pollution.

“The biggest difference between our product and literally every other competitor in our marketspace is, we have a biodegradable product that produces no microplastics,” Kendall said. “Microplastics are a huge issue we’re facing in the world today from all these single-use plastic items, whether it be plastic bags at the grocery store, plastic water bottles or, when you look at any industrial-model market, they’re utilizing plastic-based oil-absorption mats and wipes.

“These wipes peel off strings of plastic that might not stay where we dispose of them. They might not stay in the landfill – they’ll end up in the water supply, they might end up in the ocean, they’ll end up in your drinking water. It’s kind of mind-boggling when you realize the amount of oil-absorption products used in construction, marine, automotive and oil and gas industries. This is incredibly destructive, to have a cleanup item that’s increasing pollution.”

Even though TowelieTM is still slightly more expensive than plastic-based competitors, Ramkumar and Kendall believe its environmental impact can tip the scales in its favor.

“Its cost may not be on par with the synthetics, but given the performance, given the sustainability, given the plastic contamination issue, I think it has come to a competitive level,” Ramkumar said. “Now, people are noticing it.”

Proving the product

It’s true: TowelieTM was proven in action earlier this month.

Ramkumar poses with TowelieTM, which was proven effective during a minor oil spill earlier this month

On Nov. 2, there was a minor oil spill in a National Thermal Energy Corporation plant in Vallur, India, about 12 miles from Chennai, where WellGro United is located. The plant, which recently had been contacted as part of TowelieTM marketing efforts, reached out to WellGro United’s vice president for marketing, Nambi Srinivasan.

Even though it was a Saturday, he rushed over with samples.

“The TowelieTM wipe instantaneously absorbed heavy furnace oil and light crude oil,” he said.

For Ramkumar’s part, it’s gratifying to see his idea become a tangible product now being used successfully for its intended purpose.

“This product is cost-effective, sustainable and, performance-wise, it has been found viable,” he said.

“Researchers should step outside the lab. Prove the science, but then put a team together and do what’s needed to take your research to the next step. That’s how you make a difference.”

Video TowelieTM :

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