OAB: It’s a Hair Raising Invention

By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
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Apart from making you look good or keeping your head warm, you might never have thought that hair could be so beneficial for the environment.

Hairdresser Phillip McCrory from Alabama came up with an idea to use hair to clean up oil spills when he saw an otter covered in oil being rescued during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Surmising that since oil could be trapped by animal fur, he tested his theory with human hair and his wife’s pantyhose, discovering that the simple trick helped clear the water and oil mixture he prepared.

Now, among those who apply hair in cleaning up oil spills include nonprofit organisation Matter of Trust.


Advising teacher Junathan N Tubilag (third right) and team leader Joyce (second right) with the members of the innovation team.

Here at home, team leader of SMK Muara Tuang’s innovation team Joyce Inta Jose was inspired when her mother was washing the dishes and she noticed that a mass of oil would clump together causing the drain to clog.

Intrigued by the problem, she then discussed the situation with her friends on how they could solve oil clogs as they were not just a domestic problem, but on a grander scale, a worldwide problem.

According to media reports this year, between 2009 and 2015, a total of 121 oil pollution cases in the country have been reported with areas like Terengganu and Pahang reporting tar balls (remnants of oil spills) being washed up on their shorelines.

Using real human hair that they gathered from hair salons, the team invented two types of Oil Absorber Balls (OAB); type A designed to be used in calm water and type B to be used in turbulent water such as the ocean.

The OAB helps in absorbing oil contents in water caused by oil spills by keeping the hair afloat.

Ball _ 2

Oil Absorber Ball type A.

The type A OAB is bigger (about 20-25 cm in diameter), has five buoyant balls attached to help keep the ball float and holes on the bottom half, while type B is smaller (about 10-11 cm in diameter) has two buoys with holes all around it.

To use the type B ball, the balls will be held together with netting so that they stay together.

With the idea centering around the concept of 3R (reuse, reduce and recycle), the ball does not jeopardise the environment.

Having experimented with the ball in the school compound, the team discovered that with every 130 gram of hair used, about 55 ml of oil can be absorbed in 84 seconds.

Innovation team members explaining the usage of the oil absorber ball during the exhibition at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre

Innovation team members explaining the usage of the oil absorber ball during the exhibition at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre

In the recent national and international level Malaysia Young Inventors Competition 2016 (MYIC), the SMK Muara Tuang innovation team consisting of advising teacher Junathan N Tubilag and Form Three students; team leader Joyce, Siti Aisyah Ahamady, Jeneferza Isah and Nur Athirah Timai Mohd Izizwan nabbed third place in the environment category with their eco-friendly invention.

“Right now, we are hoping to do more research for OAB,” said Junathan, adding that as the school did not have enough facilities to conduct sufficient research, the team hoped to collaborate with universities so that further studies could be done.

Hoping to get the OAB commercialised in future, the team also planned on modifying it so that it could be retrieved from the water, where according to the team, they hope to add magnets to the ball and use drones to retrieve them.

So, the next time you think about getting a hair cut, you might want to consider using it to save the environment.

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