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Lincoln company wants to help oil spill

Congresswoman Doris Matsui helping Mobius Technologies reach that goal
By: Todd Wilson News Messenger Reporter
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With tens of thousands of gallons of oil flowing daily into the Gulf of Mexico from the British Petroleum Deep Water Horizon spill, a Lincoln-based company, Mobius Technologies, hopes to be part of the cleanup effort. Mobius, a firm off of Foskett Ranch Road that deals with polyurethane technologies, has invented a sorbent product called Mobius Sorbent that company representatives say will help remove the oil from the Gulf before it reaches shore. Mobius Sorbent is a powder made from grinding up recycled polyurethane foam, which is used, among other items, as upholstery stuffing for furniture. Sorbents, when used in spill cleanup, bind with the oil and create a cake that separates the oil from the water. The company’s chief executive officer, Dean Budney, said the advantages of Mobius’ sorbent is that 85 percent of the oil soaked up by the product can be reclaimed and used, and then the powder can be reused. The powder bonds with the oil and forms a cake and floats on top of the water, according to Budney. It can then be scooped up off the water with skimmers or fishing nets. Most of the sorbents currently used are made from clay or paper pulp that bond with the oil and then sink to the ocean floor. Budney said his company’s product stays on top of the water because it is both hydrophobic and oleophilic, meaning it is lighter than the water. “The industry has known for years that polyurethane is one of the greatest hydrocarbon removers. The problem is, in foam form, it acts like a sponge and soaks up water also,” Budney said. “No one thought to use it in powder form before.” Currently, the powder is primarily used as a binding agent for pressed wood panels but Budney said the company is always looking for new applications for the product, which is how it developed its use as a sorbent. Budney said the product has been shown to work well in laboratory testing. Budney demonstrated how the sorbent works for The Lincoln News Messenger on Monday, videos of the tests of the powder can be viewed on the company’s Web site at www.mobiustechnologies.com. The next step, Budney said, is to have the sorbent tested in an open ocean application. He said that the BP oil spill offers the opportunity to show the powder can be used as one of the first lines of off shore defense in cleaning up oil spills. The product has received general approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, Bundy said the company needs EPA and US Coast Guard approval for use in this particular spill. To this end, Mobius has reached out to the EPA, the Coast Guard and national, BP, state and local leaders to gain approval for the product. Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, sits on the House on Energy and Commerce that has been holding almost daily hearings on the spill. Matsui has been working to help Mobius get consideration for approval from the EPA and the Coast Guard. On June 7, Matsui sent a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson asking that the agency look into the product and inform the Congresswoman’s office as to what can be done. Mara Lee, spokesperson for Matsui, said as a member of Congress, Matsui cannot endorse or promote the product. Matsui can help Mobius, as constituents, position itself to get its product tested. “We have been able to see the lab tests and were very impressed,” Lee said. “The congresswoman thinks it is important for this product to be considered as an option.” Lee said that Matsui’s staff has been following the letter up with phone calls to the EPA in an attempt to get a formal response as to what can be done. In an e-mail to The News Messenger, the EPA confirmed it had received Matsui’s letter. According to the EPA’s e-mail response, the Coast Guard, in consultation with the EPA and the Regional Response Team, decides which products can be used in the cleanup effort. The EPA said it is giving Matsui’s office detailed instructions on what Mobius can do to get its product approved. Budney said Mobius has also met with the state of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and is hoping to meet with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Sink’s office confirmed that meetings have taken place with Mobius but was unable to schedule an interview with or provide comments on the meetings by press time. Budney said before any serious cleanup efforts can begin, the leak must be stopped. He said it is almost impossible to clean the spill when so much oil continues to leak into the gulf on a daily basis. No one knows for sure exactly how much oil is flowing into the Gulf each day and estimates vary widely from 20,000 gallons a day on the low end to more than 75,000 gallons. Budney said once the leak is stopped, Mobius Sorbent will be an ideal product to use as one part of the solution for offshore cleanup. The company has two million pounds of the product in its production plant in Germany that can be delivered to the Gulf within five days. After that, Mobius can supply one million pounds a week, Budney said. An upside of using the product as part of the cleanup, according to Bundy, is it can help put those in the region’s fishing industry who have been idled do to the spill back to work. “Fishermen who are out of jobs can help to remove the oil from the water,” Budney said. “All they need to use is the equipment they already have, like fishing nets, to pull the oil out of the water.”