11 August 2010

Biobased solvent could help clean up gulf, without damaging marshes or wildlife

Crude Awakening: Biodiesel producers stand ready to help clean up oil spill

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – The bleeding of oil into the Gulf of Mexico may be tapering off, but the work of cleaning up the coastline’s sensitive marshland and beaches will last for years. Some of the same innovators who produce biodiesel are eager to help.

Randall von Wedel visits the Gulf of Mexico, hoping his methyl ester-based biosolvent will soon be used to help clean up the oil
“Biodiesel is America’s first commercially available advanced biofuel, and one of its main benefits is displacing crude oil. Now biodiesel producers can make a green product that can also clean up that same oil,” said Steve Howell, technical director of the National Biodiesel Board.

Methyl esters, the chemical yielded in biodiesel production, can be formulated into a biobased solvent that is federally listed as a shoreline washing agent for oil spill clean-up. An effort is underway to encourage the use of this effective product to remediate oiled shorelines, particularly the more sensitive marsh habitats.

“The chemical dispersants used in the Gulf have been criticized because all they do is dissolve the oil back into the water, which actually makes it more toxic to sea life,” said Randall Von Wedel, founder and principal biochemist of CytoCulture International, a company that pioneered the method in the 1990s. “A biobased solvent does the opposite of a dispersant. It removes the oil from impacted vegetation and shoreline and floats it into the water for easy recovery.”

The process involves crews spraying the methyl esters from shallow draft boats onto oil-covered marsh vegetation or small beaches normally unreachable by land. After the biobased solvent is applied, a gentle “rain” of seawater rinses the dissolved petroleum mixture off the plants and shoreline for recovery, using small mechanical skimmers. The mixture can be recycled.

Von Wedel recently visited the Gulf of Mexico, where his team submitted documentation on his product, branded “CytoSol Biosolvent.” He says a BP contractor and the U.S. Coast Guard have submitted a proposal to use the process to enhance a mechanical beach cleaning technology.

“Several scientific publications have shown that methyl esters can help clean upshores contaminated by petroleum spills,” said Gerhard Knothe, Lead Scientist at USDA, and Editor of The Biodiesel Handbook, 2nd Edition, AOCS Press. “That may be a use of this product in cases such as the contamination in the Gulf of Mexico.”

The methyl ester product was licensed by the State of California in 1997 and used to clean oiled ships and response vessels during the San Francisco Bay oil spill of 2007.

“This is another example of what our innovative biodiesel producers can contribute to society,” said Howell.

A video on the Cytosol process can be found on the NBB YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/nationalbiodiesel#p/a/u/2/6WoGsttXf6s.

Source: National Biodiesel Board, press release, 2010-08-11.


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