Researchers in Brazil, a global frontier in deepwater oil exploration, have developed a method for cleaning up offshore oil spills that avoids the use of chemical dispersants and hazardous burn-offs.
Scientists say they can use glycerin, a chemical often used in soap and cosmetics, to collect oil in offshore spills and recover it for later use.
That technology may come in handy for Brazil, which is driving forward with its campaign to tap billions of barrels of deepwater crude despite concern over offshore operations sparked by the massive BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The process converts glycerin into a powder that when thrown on top of an oil spill turns into a plastic-like substance that absorbs oil.
“It’s a natural phenomenon that takes place to absorb the oil, because both substances are equally hydrophobic so they both flee the water at the same time,” said Fernando Gomes de Souza, a chemistry professor at the Institute of Macromolecules at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.