Oil spill prevention in the Arctic can be improved with biowaste

Oil spills are one of the greatest threats to the marine ecosystem. When a spill occurs, the availability and suitability of the response techniques and equipment vary greatly. LUT's Laboratory of Green Chemistry is developing a response suitable for the Arctic utilising biowaste.

Oil spill prevention in the Arctic can be improved with biowaste

When an oil spill occurs and the marine ecosystem is in danger, the best response techniques are rarely all available to deal with the issue. Extensive recovery equipment cannot be maintained in remote marine areas, such as the Arctic region surrounding the North Pole. In addition, the suitability and biodegradability of dispersants for treating oil spills vary in different marine areas.

Organic, non-toxic and biodegradable dispersants are often an efficient way to respond to oil spills. For example, cellulose and chitosan, which is derived from chitin – the second most abundant natural polymer, are applied to the removal and recovery of oil from water systems. However, the ability of chitosan to degrade oil depends on the pH, salinity and temperature of the water; its effect is weaker in cold sea water.

LUT's green chemistry research group has explored how the oil spill response properties of chitosan could be maintained and improved. The research group has sought solutions applicable to demanding Arctic conditions. Researcher Bhairavi Doshi's doctoral dissertation, which will undergo a public examination in Mikkeli, Finland, on August 15, revealed that orange peels introduced from biowaste improved the ability of chitosan to degrade oil in cold water.

A dispersant's ability to break oil down to smaller droplets decreases in cold water, but the bio-based material overturned the unfavourable effect of the low temperature. The incorporation of biowaste promoted the decomposition of the oil into smaller droplets and thus also the bioremediation of the oil.

"The Arctic holds considerable oil resources: an estimated 13% of the yet undiscovered resources are situated in the area surrounding the North Pole. As long as commercial activities in these areas continue, ecologically sustainable oil spill response techniques need to be developed," explains Doshi, who has worked as a researcher in the research group headed by Professor Mika Sillanpää since 2015.

"The results we have obtained consolidate Finnish expertise in the manufacture of organic dispersants. Bioremediation techniques based on green chemistry should be included in the oil spill response plans of all countries in the Arctic region."

More information:

Mika Sillanpää, Professor, LUT University, +358 40 020 5215, firstname.lastname@lut.fi
Bhairavi Doshi, Researcher, LUT University, +358 50 435 6962, firstname.lastname@lut.fi