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Phase-selective Gelators

CCNY-led team develops non-toxic oil recovery agent.


Image below: Phase-selective gelators were synthesized from sugar alcohols using biocatalysis. The gelators exhibited an unprecedented ability to phase-selectively gel only organic liquids including crude-oil fractions in the presence of water at room temperature. Oil can be recovered from the gelled phase by heating and distillation. Thus this class of materials may be useful in recovering oil from spills. [Credit: Angewandte Chemie, DOI 10.1002/anie.201002095]
Phase-selective gelator

A team of chemists led by Dr. George John, Associate Professor at The City College of New York (CCNY), have developed a non-toxic, recyclable agent that can solidify oil on salt water so that it can be scooped up like the fat that forms on the top of a pot of chilled chicken soup.

The agent could potentially be used to recover oil lost in the British Petroleum (BP) spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Professor John said.

In the laboratory, Professor John and colleagues added a sugar compound mixed in alcohol to diesel oil floating on top of a saline solution. "Within five minutes, the oil had gelled into a substance thick enough to be scooped up," he said. Then the team separated 80 percent of the oil from the gel using a vacuum distillation process.

The gelling agent developed by his team is environmentally benign. It uses a sugar-based molecule that can be obtained from renewable sources and is biodegradable.In addition, only a relatively small amount of the agent - five percent of the volume of the oil being recovered - is required for the process, which handles a range of oil from crude to vegetable oil, to work.

The BP oil spill, which began April 24, 2010, has been pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 40,000 barrels per day. Current clean-up methods, which have been in use for more than 40 years, include burning, skimming oil and using chemical dispersants. The latter can be toxic to marine life and may have unknown long-term cumulative effects on the environment, Professor John pointed out.

Besides Professor John, the team included: Swapnil R. Jadhav, a graduate student in Professor John"s laboratory; Dr. Praveen Kumar Vemula, a former post-doc in Professor John"s lab now at Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology; Dr. Srinivasa R. Raghavan, Associate Professor and Patrick & Marguerite Sun Chair in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at University of Maryland, and Rakesh Kumar, a graduate student in Professor Raghavan"s laboratory.


Movie: Non-Toxic Oil Recovery Agent [via YouTube].

Further Information:

Swapnil R. Jadhav, Praveen Kumar Vemula, Rakesh Kumar, Srinivasa R. Raghavan, George John:
Sugar-Derived Phase-Selective Molecular Gelators as Model Solidifiers for Oil Spills.
In: Angewandte Chemie International Edition; published online 15 Jul 2010, DOI 10.1002/anie.201002095

Source: City College of New York, USA


Last update: 21.07.2010

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