COLOMBO: A 24-year-old Sri Lankan post-graduate student in Chemistry at the University of Maryland USA, has discovered an agent which will clear oil spills in the sea without damaging the aquatic environment.
The student, Jasmin Athas, working under the supervision of Professor Srinivasa Raghavan, an alumnus of IIT Madras, found that a mixture of two food-grade molecules, Lecithin and Tween 80, is an effective emulsifier and is able to disperse crude oil in sea water. In a paper published in July 2014 in Langmuir, the journal of the American Chemical Society, Athas reports that Lecithin and Tween 80, blended in a 60:40 ratio to create smaller droplets of oil than current dispersants like Corexit 9500A. The L and T combine allows for more efficient dispersion, Athas claims.
Furthermore, Lecithin and Tween 80 are environmentally safe and edible. Lecithin is found in soya beans and is used in making chocolates, and Tween 80 is used to emulsify ice cream. Jasmin was drawn into oil spill research after it was found that the chemicals used in tackling oil spills, like Corexit 9500A, were themselves highly toxic. Raghavan, Athas and Professor Vijay John joined the project.