ADELAIDE, Australia--(BUSINESS WIRE)--On the eve of the anniversary of the US Deepwater Horizon disaster, polluted beaches, oily water, dead birds and marine life destruction caused by crude oil spills could be a thing of the past thanks to pioneering research led by Flinders University.
In an exciting, sustainable answer to clean up oil spill destruction, scientists have developed a new polymer – itself made from by-products – which quickly and effectively soaks up crude oil.
In an environmental win-win, the polymer made from waste cooking oil and sulphur (a by-product of the petroleum industry) absorbs crude oil and diesel spills.
Better still, because this highly buoyant polymer acts like a sponge to suck spills from sea water, the polymer can be squeezed to recover the oil and then reused.
Award-winning scientist Dr Justin Chalker, Senior Lecturer in Synthetic Chemistry at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, is leading an international research team responsible for the discovery.
“This is an entirely new and environmentally beneficial application for polymers made from sulphur,” says Dr Chalker. “This application can consume excess waste sulfur that is stockpiled around the globe and may help mitigate the perennial problem of oil spills in aquatic environments.”
Oil spills are a major global issue, with the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) reporting about 7000 tonnes of crude oil spilling from tankers into oceans in 2017 alone.
The international team of researchers point to the effects of recent large-scale spillage catastrophes as a potent reason driving their research – in particular, the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig on 20 April 2010 and subsequent release of approximately 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
A recent large oil spill off Borneo has prompted Indonesian authorities to declare a State of Emergency.
Hundreds of smaller spills of diesel fuel and other petroleum products affect developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
The new material is cost effective and sustainable, helping developing countries where smaller, localised spills threaten groundwater, drinking water and important food staples such as fish.
“This is a new class of oil sorbents that is low-cost, scalable, and enables the efficient removal and recovery of oil from water,” says Dr Chalker.
The research is published in the new paper, Sustainable Polysulfides for Oil Spill Remediation: Repurposing Industrial Waste for Environmental Benefit, published in Advanced Sustainable Systems (Wiley) DOI: 10.1002/adsu.201800024 by Flinders and other researchers – Justin Chalker, Max Worthington, Cameron Shearer, Louisa Esdaile, Jonathan Campbell, Christopher Gibson, Stephanie Legg, Yanting Yin, Nicholas Lundquist, Jason Gascooke, Inês Albuquerque (Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Lisbon), Joseph Shapter (Flinders and University of Queensland), Gunther Andersson, David Lewis and Gonçalo Bernardes (Cambridge University and IMM, Portugal).
Justin Chalker video interview and still photographs: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dpkoc7b2x7ksigy/AADz57AB6dM3tD0ozOwlQSmQa?dl=0