Study: Eco-Friendly Oil Herders Show Promise for Effective Marine Spill Cleanup

Eco-Friendly Oil Herders Show Promise for Effective Marine Spill CleanupScientists demonstrated an effective and environmentally benign technology to harness the forces that cause an oil spill to spread.

Researchers from the City College of New York and Tulane University developed chemicals from a biomolecule abundant in marine algae that reversed the direction of the spreading force when applied to the surrounding edge of oil on water. In laboratory experiments, the floating oil contracted into a smaller and thicker mass. This development may help responders more effectively remove oil in the event of a future spill. The team published their findings in Science Advances: Sacrificial amphiphiles: Eco-friendly chemical herders as oil spill mitigation chemicals.

This study’s team coupled a phytol molecule (the hydrophobic part of the herding amphiphile) with a “cation” (the polar group of the amphiphile that has a small positive charge). The cation anchors the molecule to the water surface, forming a single layer that reduces tension. In small pan experiments, the researchers spread Louisiana sweet crude oil on water and applied phytol-based amphiphiles. They evaluated herding behavior as a function of time, temperature, and water salinity.

The team noted that while the results are promising, additional research is needed before these molecules can be deployed in response to an oil spill. This group’s current research focuses on detailed assessments of the herders’ decomposition products, toxicity of the water soluble degradation products, understanding the factors that govern how long the herding action is retained, and modeling the effectiveness of the herding process during wind and wave action.

This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Consortium for the Molecular Engineering of Dispersant Systems (C-MEDS).

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