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Human hair as shield to oil

By NewsGram Staff Writer

We all have heard of incidents of oil spills devastating oceans and marine life. All efforts at addressing the such malicious accidents have resulted in failure. Big corporates such as British Petroleum and Shell energy have overseen massive oil spills in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.

That a practical method of using naturally available waste such as human hair, bird feathers and sawdust to sweep clean the waters off oil evaded everyone’s thoughts is bewildering.

Everyone except Nikhilesh Das, who came up with the idea at the young age of 13.

While studying in the 7th grade in Assam, Nikhilesh discovered a novel way to rid rivers and oceans off murky oil spills.

As a curious young mind Nikhilesh remembered accidental oil leakages in Brahmaputra river which spoiled the harvest of the farmers, and resulted in a wave of farmer suicides.

The simple innovations started coming soon after an exhibition on pollution got him thinking and doing some research on the internet to see how the menace could be handled. However, the results were not satisfying.

“Many existing techniques that people use only create more pollution in the water. I wasn’t convinced that these can be used as sustainable methods to eliminate water pollution and separate oil from water,” he says.

Hair-oil theory

Hair as an anodyne to oil spills emerged after he recollected with much fondness how his mother used to oil his hair. “The oil would stick to my hair and would just not come off”, says Nikhilesh.

He mixed the hair that he got from a barbershop with motor oil and water, and watched with fascination how a coating of oil would form over the surface of water.

Within 30 seconds of using hair to absorb oil, 90 per cent of the oil would be removed in the first attempt.

Human hair as shield to oil


The next incident that struck Nikhilesh occurred while watching a documentary film on migratory birds that died due to oil spillage.

The migratory birds would touch the surface of the water to catch fish and the oil would stick to their feathers. This would make them unable to fly, leading to a painful death.

“One line from an article stood out for me: ‘Oil got stuck to their feathers.’ I thought, feathers can also catch oil and can be used,” he says.

After donning the experimental hat, Nikhilesh met with much success. He had found his second ingredient (feathers).

The third revelation came when Nikhilesh was renovating his house. After the carpenter dropped oil on the ground, he saw the sawdust absorb the oil. Within seconds it vanished. And so he got his third ingredient.

Bird feathers block oil


For preparing a prototype using the three waste materials, Nikhilesh has won many awards.

The short-listing by the National Innovation Foundation, got him an award from the President in 2009. He also received the INK fellowship in 2011.

He sees potential in the efficacy of the waste materials to clean out oil and wants to work out how it can be further utilized.

“I would like to design a big hairbrush kind of machine, which could be used to clean water bodies. I am not an engineer and I don’t even have the resources or technologies to design a big machine though. I will be glad if someone could help me take the design to the next level,” Nikhilesh says.

On emphasizing the value of imagination, Nikhilesh says, “I would want school authorities and teachers to be more supportive of students who want to innovate. More focus should be given on practical knowledge rather than theoretical knowledge and scoring good marks,” concludes Nikhilesh.

Nikhilesh has also turned his sight upon air pollution and wants to research on how to address issues related to it. Presently, Nikhilesh is looking for potential supporters to help him take his innovation to the market.

Here is a link to the INK talk by Nikhilesh Das; showing his simple innovations.



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