2021 Apr/12

Research for Society

A sustainable solution has been found to cope with the effects of oil spills at sea

Klaipėda, like most coastal cities, faces challenges in dealing with marine and coastal pollution sources. One of them is oil products and the danger of their spillage. However, Klaipėda University researchers have found a sustainable solution to this problem.

The idea of Tatjana Paulauskienė and Marija Kataržytė, two researchers from Klaipėda University, to decompose and neutralise water-contaminating oil products with environmentally friendly biological microorganisms is already on the way of patenting the invention and developing the technology of the preparation. The research project won funding from the Agency for Science, Innovation, and Technology (MITA) to develop and refine the invention technology, patent and license it, and offer it to the international market.

Tatjana Paulauskienė, Senior Researcher at the Faculty of Marine Technology and Natural Sciences of KU, and Marija Kataržytė, Senior Researcher at the Marine Research Institute who studied the pollution of the Baltic seacoast with microorganisms, became a team a couple of years ago due to an accidentally born idea to check whether the microorganisms, found in the sand of our seacoast and in water, could decompose and neutralise petroleum products. The first tests performed in the laboratory were successful, which put the two researchers on the path to success.

The invention of Klaipėda University researchers Tatjana Paulauskienė and Marija Kataržytė will help neutralize the consequences of marine oil spills.

Researchers Marija Kataržytė and Tatjana Paulauskienė

Pollution of the Baltic Sea water and coasts by oil products is a topical issue. Cases of larger or smaller oil spills in ports or seawater are not uncommon. In accordance with the European Commission data, oil transporting by ship is intensive in the Baltic Sea, with more than 2,000 ships carrying oil at sea at one time. Sea freight is projected to intensify in the near future, which increases the risk of environmental incidents. Lithuania and its marine environment are no exception in this context.

“The technology we are developing is intended for larger-scale spills, when oil products are spread over a large area of water and can no longer be collected mechanically. The work of neutralising pollutants is to be performed by the microorganisms identified by us,” says Tatjana Paulauskienė. Tatjana and Marija are currently working on the problem of what biological material could effectively serve to disperse microorganisms in large oil-contaminated areas. Funding from MITA for the development of the final technology as well as for the description and patenting of its methodology will accelerate the path of invention to practical application. Experiments with straw and aerogels are planned, which could become environmentally friendly means of microbial dispersion.

According to Marija Kataržytė, Senior Researcher at the Marine Research Institute, the biggest challenge at this stage is to create and refine efficient technology. “Until now, we have only performed laboratory experiments where the environmental conditions can be controlled; now we are to carry out experiments under natural conditions. Another important criterion to be pursued is to develop both efficient and inexpensive technology. Then it will be successful and used in practice,” says Marija Kataržytė.

The project under the name InoBioTech Baltija starts on 1 April 2021 and will last for more than one year. The researchers will implement the project together with a KU-based company Inobiostar. For “commercialising” the invention (i.e. testing, preparing methodological recommendations, and producing test material), 100,000 Eur. have been allocated. The technology under development has already been protected: a priority application and a copy have been submitted to the European Patent Office, and the product based on it will be proposed for licensing. The water transport sector has been identified as the main area of the technology application. The aim is to develop innovative and environmentally friendly biological treatment technologies for the decomposition of oil pollutants in the marine environment in order to prevent water pollution in the Baltic Sea region, port areas, and coastal areas.

KU Rector prof. dr. Artūras Razbadauskas notes that this is not the first invention of KU researchers to gain international recognition and to successfully develop from a scientific idea to the technology applied in business. “Innovation, which turns into patents and technologies, is one of the added values created by universities and probably the goal of all young researchers. This invention, focused on the solution of ecological problems of the Baltic Sea, is also significant for us in that it reflects our determined strategic direction: to contribute to the formation of regional specialisation and economic progress, thus becoming a centre of scientific knowledge relevant to regional specialisation,” said dr. Rabadauskas.

Oil spills are said to cause the greatest damage when reaching shallow waters or the coast and polluting sensitive habitats or harming species living in those coastal areas. InoBioTech Baltija technology could be used in very shallow waters at a depth of less than 5 or 10 meters and would not adversely affect organisms living on the seabed.

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