UH Researcher Receives Grant to Develop New Oil Dispersants

The extensive use of chemical dispersants on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico prompted concerns that they also may have damaged fragile ecosystems.

As the debate continues over their use on oil spills, a University of Houston researcher has received a grant to develop safer, more efficient dispersants.

Professor Ramanan Krishnamoorti’s work is part of a major multi-institution grant project to study the effects of the 2010 oil spill, develop new tools and technology to respond to future spills and improve mitigation and restoration efforts.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) Research Board recently announced that eight research teams will be awarded $112.5 million over the next three years. BP established the independent board to administer the company’s 10-year, $500 million effort to study the environmental and health impacts of the spill.  

Krishnamoorti, chair of UH’s chemical and biomolecular engineering department, is part of a research team that will focus on dispersants. He was awarded $225,000 to develop new dispersants. RamananK

Chemical dispersants break apart surface oil slicks into microscopic drops that can sink into the water instead of drifting to shore. Massive amounts of dispersants were used on the water’s surface as well as underwater at the site of the BP oil spill.

“My efforts will be focused on coming up with novel, particle-based and biological dispersants,” Krishnamoorti said. “I’ll be working on developing dispersants that we can use less of and are more biocompatible with the water, plant life and wildlife.

“Safety has been a big issue in dispersant technology. We already know they can be highly toxic, so the challenge is to make them less so,” Krishnamoorti said. “We hope to make safer and more efficient dispersants.”

Tulane University is leading the project titled, “ The Science and Technology of Dispersants as Relevant to Deep Sea Oil Releases.”

Krishnamoorti’s research focuses on developing materials with tailored properties through a detailed understanding and manipulation of a structure at the molecular level. Specific applications for his research including developing light-weight automobile parts, super-strong fibers, strengthened elastomers, materials for fuel cells, longer-life lithium ion batteries and improved materials for tissue replacement.

About the University of Houston

               The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 38,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.