The product was invented by Phil McCory, a hair stylist in Huntsville, Alabama. While watching television coverage of the 1989 Valdez oil spill, McCory noticed the difficulty volunteers were having cleaning the fur of otters. "I thought if animal fur can trap and hold spilled oil, why can't human hair", said McCory. In a home experiment, McCory stuffed 5 pounds of hair he'd cut into a pair of his wife's pantyhose. He tied the ankles of the nylons together to form a ring shaped collection bundle. Then, filling his son's baby pool with water, he poured a gallon of used motor oil in the pool and then dunked the pantyhose. Two minutes later he pulled out the nylons and noticed the water was crystal clear. "Not a trace of oil was left in the water", said McCory.
The NASA Testing
NASA conducted an experiment using a prototype bulk hair filter to treat a partially filled 55-gallon drum of oil-water mixture from an actual fuel oil spill. Human hair was provided directly from McCrory's hair salon. The hair was placed inside a 55-gallon drum on a mesh filter. The contaminated oil-water mixture was rapidly poured through the human hair filter and drained into a clean 55-gallon drum. Approximately 300 pounds of oil-water mixture was poured through the prototype system. It took 13 minutes. When the water was tested after a single pass, only 17 parts of oil per million parts of water remained. The EPA standard for discharge is 15 parts of oil per million.
The Reusability Factor
One of the main benefits realized in the NASA experiment was that oil could also be recovered from the hair. Human hair does not "absorb" (or soak in) oil as does cloth, but rather it "adsorbs" (or holds on to) it. A product such as a polypropylene mat "absorbs" oil, and the oil bonds to the material, so much so that the oil cannot be extracted. But with the OttiMat the oil is "adsorbed", meaning that the oil is adhering to the surfaces of the hair. The mat can be wrung out for re-use 100 or more times. In fact, during an oil spill cleanup, up to 98% of the oil can be recovered. Each cubic foot collects 7.8 Gallon per 2 and half minute per use.