LUMBERTON — Raegan Reeves is looking to change the way the world sees oil cleanup with her new startup Crude Spill Cleaning Co.
The 23-year-old is a Lumberton High School graduate, who lived with her grandparents, George and Phyllis Allen, both of whom still live in Lumberton; as well as her mother, Tonya Green.
She is currently a NC State University chemical engineering student and recently launched the research project turned company after its experimental trials yielded extremely positive results.
The startup’s mission is to research and develop new and innovative methods of environmental cleanup to mitigate such man-made disasters as oil spills, Reeves said. Crude Spill Cleaning has focused on developing a more efficient way of removing crude oil from wildlife, specifically waterfowl, that have been affected during an oil spill.
That was Reeves’ thought process when she and her mentor, Robert Troxler, presented her research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium at N.C. State in July 2020.
“We just thought it was interesting that there was no innovation in this area,” Reeves said. “We had been using Dawn dish detergent, something made for dishes, all of this time and so we thought ‘Is there a better way to go by this?’”
Reeves has always been interested in sustainability and her education at N.C. State University painted a clear picture early on of the problems the world faces.
“At the very beginning of our engineering classes they teach us about the big problems of the world and the ways in which we go about them,” she said. “They teach us water scarcity is going to be an issue, developing medicine is going to be an issue, green energy is going to be an issue.”
It didn’t take long for Reeves to discover the lack of a chemical that should be in such high demand.
“There is no research really done for a chemical specifically made to clean oil off animals,” she said
Crude Spill Cleaning Co. is now headquartered in Research Triangle Park and Reeves serves as the president and chief technical officer. All research is conducted at Troxler Electronic Labs, where her mentor serves as the director of Advanced Technologies.
Troxler has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University, a doctorate in electrical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and was inducted into the NCSU Electrical Engineering Hall of Fame in 2018.
The company already has developed two different chemical solvents to clean oil from feathers in a way that is “much faster, more efficient, and easier on the wildlife,” Reeves said.
The feathers for the research came from ducks and geese at Ward Farms and Allen Farms of Lumberton.
“Both solvents significantly outperformed Dawn in all experimental trials,” she said. “The final averaged percentages resulted in Solvent 1 and 2 removing 85-90% of oil from feathers, while the detergent solution removed only 35% of oil from feathers.”
Both solvents also have a better environmental outlook than their alternative, Reeves said. Dish detergent is formulated with a small percentage of petroleum and other volatile organic compounds. The two solvents created in the CSCC lab are VOC-free, nontoxic, recyclable and water soluble.
“They are both gentle on skin and eyes, and have extremely high flash points,” Reeves said.
The student believes this innovation could easily reshape the future of oil-spill response and in turn, greatly improve wildlife survival rates.
The company is focused on refining these solvents, while also developing new and innovative cleaning methods to further advancement in oil spill response. The company is now working on getting additional funding to patent a cleaning container that will allow people to clean wildlife in the field.
“One of the main reasons the birds die is because of how long the oil is on their body, so if you could wash them in the field that would cut down on that,” Reeves said. “That’s the next thing that we’re working on, so we’re going to have to get a lot of funding to get a running prototype of that made.”
Reeves is a Goodnight Scholar at North Carolina State University. She will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and with a certified year of work experience through the NCSU Cooperative Education program. She plans to work in the environmental/sustainability sector after graduating, but her main goal is to seek additional funding for the Crude Spill Cleaning Co.
Gaining exposure for this product will be the biggest challenge faced by Crude Spill, but Reeves and her colleagues are confident the unprecedented results will allow them to receive the support they need to continue revolutionizing the oil spill cleanup field of study.
“We really hope to get funding from any type of large entity, like the Environment Protection Agency, and then, ideally, we’ll be able to give the solvent to environment cleanup companies around the coast,” Reeves said.
“In the long run it would be awesome if a company like Exxon or a big oil company would come in and want to be interested in helping us produce it or buy the rights that way they got a way to clean up their mess if they caused a spill,” Reeves added.
Videos and information about Crude Spill Cleaning Co. can be found at its website: www.crudespillcleaningco.com.