PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 20, 2012 With concerns about the possible health and environmental effects of oil dispersants in the Deepwater Horizon disaster still fresh in mind, scientists today described a new dispersant made from edible ingredients that both breaks up oil slicks and keeps oil from sticking to the feathers of birds.
"Each of the ingredients in our dispersant is used in common food products like peanut butter, chocolate and whipped cream," said Lisa K. Kemp, Ph.D. She reported on the dispersant at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, being held here this week.
"Other scientists are working on new oil dispersants and absorbents, but nothing that's quite like ours. It not only breaks up oil but prevents the deposition of oil on birds and other objects, like the ingredients in laundry detergent keep grease from redepositing on clothing in the rinse cycle. Birds can sit in slicks of the dispersed oil, they can dive through it and take off and flap their wings, and the oil will fall off."
Kemp's colleague, Robert Lochhead, Ph.D., developed the concept for the new dispersant, and the research team now has moved the material from concept to a prototype dispersant suitable for testing on actual oil spills. The team, which also includes Drs. Sarah Morgan, Dan Savin and Les Goff, is at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
Lochhead said the new dispersant is based on scientific principles established decades ago during the development of modern laundry detergents. One ingredient, for instance, is a special polymer that sticks to the surface of oil droplets to keep them from sticking to the feathers of sea birds. Similar polymers in laundry detergents keep oil and grease removed during the wash cycle from getting back on clothing during the rinse cycle.
That feature in the new dispersant would be critical for minimizing damage to wildlife and beache
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