Monday, May 3, 2010

Cleaning Oil Spills with Hair and Mushrooms

As you may have noticed by now, this blog is about using natural systems and organisms to solve human problems. As you may have also noticed, Paul Stamets is my hero, mostly because he has shown great creativity in doing just that. Well, he’s at it again. Human hair has an incredible affinity for oil. It naturally soaks up the oil our skin produces. It also works very well for soaking up crude oil like you would find in an oil spill. It is also an abundant waste product and is produced in great abundance at barber shops across the country. So various people have been working with those barber shops to collect hair and make it into mats that can be used to clean up oil spills.

But then what do you do with them? That’s where Stamets comes in. He has “trained” a strain of oyster mushrooms to metabolize crude oil. Yes, that’s right, it just eats crude. And when it is done, the area is clean and safe. They are pretty sure you could even eat the mushrooms produced, though I doubt anyone is in a rush to try it out. Well, it also turns out that oyster mushrooms are also quite fond of digesting hair. Stamets and his team can take the oil-soaked hair mats and grow oyster mushrooms on them, with the end result being compost that is safe for use in your garden. I love elegant solutions like this. We need more solutions like these.

For more information, check out these articles:


  1. What about the salt levels, if it's applied to the gulf-coast oil spill? Seems like it worked in the SF bay from the inhabitat article, but does the oyster mushroom growth slow down or anything?

  2. The SF bay is still salt water. I know that mushrooms are at least mildly tolerant of salt because a spore application called a spore mass slurry uses a mild amount of salt to inhibit bacteria without harming spores. Also, the oil in the mats would be hydrophobic, so there probably wouldn't be much water in there anyway, salt or otherwise.

  3. Holy crap. "Elegant solutions" is an understatement. Also a very interesting idea for that service organization - one that finds needs and fulfills them with waste materials from the business sector...

    Very cool - thanks Ed!

  4. Yes this is a very cool observation.Hair does soak up oil and therefore it could be used for the same reason in cleaning purposes.There are so many good posts in this the articles here.Informative and innovative.

  5. Paul Stament created "Mycobooms" a sock made out of hemp, and inside of it straw(absorbs oil) and inoculated the straw with oyster mushrooms. he then tested it on the Puget Sound(up top Washington Below BC,Canada)containing approximately 3.3% salinity (Worlds ocean contains about 3.1%). To answer your Question: yes mushrooms grow on salt water. for the question about slow growth i couldn't track down an article about it, but according to Staments, "The mycelium fully colonizes salt water soaked straw."
    Hope this helped =D

  6. Didnt say how much rice flower... Also if air is needed to mix up spores in syringe then boil water in a kettle then suck in steam from pour spout for sterilized air... cubensis spores