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Reducing the Environmental Impact of Waterborne Oil from a Spill: A New Solution Using Existing Polymers

Lisa K. Kemp, Robert Y. Lochhead, Sarah Morgan, Daniel Savin, Andrew B. Adams


The clean-up and removal of oil spilled in the marine environment and in coastal and inland waters is a challenging task. Each of the available clean-up technologies has significant disadvantages. Current oil dispersants are successful at distributing small oil droplets through the water column, but they do not prevent fouling of substrates such as birds, animals, and plants. By developing an oil anti-deposition agent that is composed of commercially available food-grade materials, our research team aims to provide an economical and environmentally friendly option for oil spill treatment. In contrast to the dispersant most widely used in the recent Deepwater Horizon spill, our product does not contain any petroleum based solvents, nor does it rely on the use of harsh surfactants. Using amphiphilic polysaccharides and natural bilayer-forming surfactants, we have created a material that disperses the oil into discrete droplets and prevents the treated oil from wetting or sticking to hydrophobic substrates, such as bird feathers. Our anti-deposition agent also provides a source of nitrogen and phosphorous for support of naturally occurring microbes that can affect bioremediation of the site.

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