2022 Aug/29

Research for Society

The biotechnology developed by KU researchers passed the test and effectively neutralised the oil spill in the port

The effectiveness and efficiency of biotechnologies developed by KU researchers to neutralise oil pollutants were confirmed not only by tests under real conditions in the port of Klaipėda, but also by the results of water tests conducted in an independent laboratory.

Scientific research civil safety exercise to neutralise oil pollutants was held in the water area of the Klaipėda State Seaport Authority (KSSA) fleet base on August 3. The purpose of the exercise was to test the effectiveness of the biotechnology developed by KU researchers under real conditions. The technology is unique due to a sorbent of natural origin – straw with oil-degrading microorganisms – being used to neutralise oil pollution. It is environmentally friendly, developed on the basis of inexpensive, natural materials and microorganisms extracted from the environment of the Baltic Sea, its water and sand, that are able to feed on oil products. The research team has been working on this project for more than one and a half years. They performed a number of complex lab analyses both in Lithuania and abroad. The technology has already been patented in Lithuania, and a priority application has been submitted to the European Patent Office.

Simulated oil spill neutralised within an hour

The Republic of Lithuania Ministry of Environment issued a permit to the Klaipėda State Seaport Authority for testing the technology under real conditions. A crude oil spill was simulated on the test site, enclosed by oil booms, in the port’s water area. The training consisted of three stages. First, a specialist from an independent laboratory (Klaipėdos vanduo AB ) took water samples at the test site to determine the initial concentration of hydrocarbons in the water. After that, a spill was simulated: 200 milliliters of crude oil were spilled into the port water area. Then the main stage of the exercise began, the neutralisation of oil pollutants, using a natural sorbent with oil-degrading microorganisms. To this end, two devices were used: a sheet filled with sorbents (2 pcs. 3×1.5 m) and a frame for collecting pollutant residues (4 pcs. 0.5×1 m). For the production of one sheet, 1 kg of sorbent was used, which can absorb about 5 liters of crude oil. A sheet filled with sorbents was spread over the surface of the polluted water, it absorbed and locked the pollutants, and the latter activated the microorganisms. After the sheet was removed, the oil residue was collected using a contaminant collection frame with sorbents. The process was repeated twice. The oil spilled into the port water area was collected by KU researchers and representatives of KSSA within just one hour. After the oil pollution neutralisation process was completed, water samples were taken again, and the cleaning agents used during the exercise were brought to the KU laboratory for further research in order to determine the efficiency and duration of the used sorbent disposal.

The results of the water test confirmed the effectiveness of the biotechnology

As found after testing the water samples taken during the exercise in the laboratory of Klaipėdos vanduo AB, the concentration of hydrocarbons at the end of the cleanup process was analogous to that in the water samples taken at the beginning of the exercise. “Now we can confidently state that the environmentally friendly oil pollution neutralisation technology developed by KU and Inobiostar is effective not only in the laboratory but also in real conditions,” said dr. Tatjana Paulauskienė, leader of the biotechnology-developing team of researchers.

The results of the tests received a positive feedback from the environmental protection specialists of the Klaipėda State Seaport Authority who had high hopes for the innovation. “We have the means to clean up oil spills in the port, and we can ensure mechanical collection of pollutants. The biggest problem for all services is to collect the thinnest layer of oil film. In the Baltic Sea, the possibilities of using chemical substances- dispersants are limited, and therefore we are really interested in the final product development and in the researchers finding solutions for its packaging, production, and presentation to users. In order to be able to use it, the legal regulation of the technology is also important. Of course, we trust that the number of oil spills in the port will decrease, however, the biotechnology developed by KU reseachers will allow us to collect and neutralise them even more promptly and efficiently. And this is one of the tasks of the Green Port”, emphasised Aistė Kubiliūtė, Environmental Protection Coordinator of KSSA.

Galina Garnaga-Budrė, Director of the Environmental Research Department at the Environmental Protection Agency, who also observed the verification of biotechnology under real conditions, was happy about KU researchers finding a means to fight oil pollution in nature. “The environment is full of microorganisms that, after an oil spill, begin to break it down in the water. Studies of such microorganisms were once carried out in our laboratory. It is good that KU researchers put their knowledge into practice: they selected a specific set of microorganisms together with a natural sorbent. Such natural technologies are very much needed today, when we seek to solve problems in a sustainable way: to quickly and efficiently remove oil pollution, which unfortunately still occurs. I am very happy about the achievements of our colleagues-researchers and I wish them much continued success”, said Garnaga-Budrė.

Another challenge is the packaging of the biotechnology

According to the head of the KU researcher team dr. Paulauskienė, after the tests under real conditions, the next no less important stage of technology development awaits: to solve the issue of the product packaging design. It has to be environmentally friendly and convenient for use in pollutant neutralisation operations, storage, transportation, and disposal.

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