Attachment of a hydrophobically modified biopolymer at the oil-water interface in the treatment of oil spills

Pradeep Venkataraman, Jingjian Tang, Etham Frenkel, Gary L McPherson, Jibao He, Srinivasa R Raghavan, Vladimir Kolesnichenko, Arijit Bose, Vijay T John
ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2013, 5 (9): 3572-80
The stability of crude oil droplets formed by adding chemical dispersants can be considerably enhanced by the use of the biopolymer, hydrophobically modified chitosan. Turbidimetric analyses show that emulsions of crude oil in saline water prepared using a combination of the biopolymer and the well-studied chemical dispersant (Corexit 9500A) remain stable for extended periods in comparison to emulsions stabilized by the dispersant alone. We hypothesize that the hydrophobic residues from the polymer preferentially anchor in the oil droplets, thereby forming a layer of the polymer around the droplets. The enhanced stability of the droplets is due to the polymer layer providing an increase in electrostatic and steric repulsions and thereby a large barrier to droplet coalescence. Our results show that the addition of hydrophobically modified chitosan following the application of chemical dispersant to an oil spill can potentially reduce the use of chemical dispersants. Increasing the molecular weight of the biopolymer changes the rheological properties of the oil-in-water emulsion to that of a weak gel. The ability of the biopolymer to tether the oil droplets in a gel-like matrix has potential applications in the immobilization of surface oil spills for enhanced removal.

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