In focus: The magic biopolymer gel
- The magic biopolymer was made by chemically treating ‘chitosan’, which is a natural biopolymer.
- Chitosan is a polysaccharide present in chitins of organisms such as shrimp.
- The chemically fabricated biopolymer gel can switch from being water-repelling in air and oil-repelling under water.
- This is the first time that a material is made switchable, from superhydrophobic to superoleophobic.
- As a result it can be used to separate oil or water from oil-water mixture.
- Besides the gel can be used to separate various oil-water mixtures of different densities of oil such as crude oil, kerosene, motor oil, olive oil etc.
Solution for oil spills
- Due to switchable water-repelling and oil-repelling property the biopolymer gel can be used in oil spills both large scale and small scale.
- Land-based oil spill: In case of small-scale oil spill such as that on land, the gel can made water-repelling so that it can collect the oil.
- Water-based oil spill: In case of large-scale oil spill, the gel can be made oil-repelling so that it can collect and remove water.
About Oil Spills
- Oil Spill is basically leakage of oil and its products in the environment.
- While oil spills are catastrophic when they occur in water, they can severely affect the environment when they occur on land too.
- In water, the major oil spills occur due to accidents, release of crude oil from tankers, refuse of waste oil offshore, drilling rigs etc
- Land-based oil spills occur due to leakage in tankers, vehicles etc.
Major Oil spills
- Recent events of major oil spills include
- Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Gulf of Mexico. (2010)
- Exon Valdez oil spill in Alaska (1989)
- Gulf war oil spill in Kuwait (1991)
- 2014 Sundarbans oil spill in Shela River in Bangladesh Sundarbans.
- 2017 Ennore oil spill in Kamarajar Port near Chennai.
- Oil spills cause severe mortality among seabirds.
- The feathers of the seabird is significantly affects by oil thereby reducing their insulating ability and less buoyant in the water.
- Oil during oil spills is consumed by planktons and bio-accumulate the entire marine food chain including fish, crabs and other aquatic animals.
- Other marine mammals exposed to oil spill get severely affected in terms of insulating property.
- Land-based oil spill cause soil and water pollution
- Sunderban oil spill have severely affected the mangrove forests.
- Bioremediation is the use of microorganisms to metabolize and remove oil during oil spills.
- The bacteria used for bio-remediation could include sulfate-reducing bacteria, acid-producing anaerobic bacteria etc.
Advantage of biopolymer gel over bioremediation
- While bioremediation is seen as a solution for oil spill, it significantly changes the ecology of the marine environment.
- Anaerobic bacteria used in bioremediation of oil spill replace other aerobic bacteria in the marine ecosystem.
- Besides the efficiency of biopolymer gel in removing oil spills is 95%.
- Therefore the biopolymer gel could be a good solution to bioremediation.
Section : Environment & Ecology