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How the Chevy Volt Helped Clean up the BP Oil Spill

February 28, 2012

When the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform exploded and sank in April 2010, millions of barrels of oil spilled freely into the Gulf of Mexico over the ensuing weeks. Cleanup crews used a boom made from plastic and other materials to skim the oil off of the ocean’s surface, just like one would with a pool skimmer.

Once BP’s Macondo well was finally sealed, oil no longer bubbled up to float on the water’s surface. But cleanup crews were left wondering what to do with the oil-soaked boom that had helped to contain the spill for so long. You certainly can’t dump that in the trash.

Late last year, General Motors decided that it would develop a process for recycling the used boom into new parts for its extended-range electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt.

To develop the recycling technique, GM partnered with several other companies: Heritage Environmental, which collected the used boom; Mobile Fluid Recovery, which eliminates the absorbed oil and water by spinning the booms at high speeds until they are dry; Lucent Polymers, which makes the material appropriate for plastic die-mold production; and GDC Corporation, which combines the plastic resin with other plastic compounds to make the car components.

The end product is a set of parts (25% boom material and 25% recycled tires) used to deflect air around the Volt’s radiator, according to MSNBC.

GM says that the oil boom recycling program will reuse 227 miles of boom material, saving 212,500 pounds of waste from the landfill. This will provide enough material to make the Volt’s air-deflecting baffles for one production year.

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