That’s right folks, you heard it here first: Polymers are not chemicals. Polymer scientists, all those years of chemistry classes you took are worthless. I’m sorry.
I was informed of this factoid this morning while I was eating my breakfast and watching CNN’s coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf. Reynolds Wolf (no relation, thank goodness), a meteorologist and CNN correspondent, was reporting from Louisiana on another chemical being used to help in the clean-up efforts: C.I. Agent.
We’ve already reported about the dispersants being employed down there, but I hadn’t heard of this substance until this morning. It seems clean-up crews are now also going to be using C.I. Agent, a petroleum-based blend of polymers that encapsulates oil (or any hydrocarbon, really), turning the whole complex into a rubberlike substance that can be scooped out of the water. This polymeric powder compound comes from Louisville, Ky.-based C.I. Agent Solutions, which says that the solidified oil-polymer product ”can be used as a fuel or sold to companies … as a filler to add strength and flexibility to their products.”
This is not exactly what Reynolds Wolf told me this morning. He stressed that the C.I. Agent is “a polymer, not a chemical” and that the final solid is “biodegradable.” I can’t find a video clip of this, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but I nearly choked on my cereal bar when I heard it. I’m guessing that what you were supposed to get out of all of this is something like: Chemicals are bad, but this polymer thing is good because it’s eco-friendly and helpful.
I talked all of this over with colleague Melody Voith, who authors the “Cleantech Chemistry” blog for C&EN. She’s already reported about other efforts to clean up the Gulf, such as stockings filled with hair, and looked further into this C.I. Agent here.
I leave you with a video of C.I. Agent in action. It reminds me of one of those OxiClean commercials.
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