Research into vegetable oil based biodiesels as a cleaning agent for heavy oil spills
Recent experience in heavy bunker fuel oil spills in the Philippines (MV Solar I), Australia (Global Peace) and Spain (Prestige) has highlighted the need to find a cheap, effective and biodegradable agent to clean residual oil from mangroves, roots and surfaces, marshlands and other shoreline vegetation without adversely impacting the intertidal and marine environment.
Inherent to the cleaning of heavy oil from dense coastal mangroves in remote tropical regions of Australia are the challenges of fragility of intertidal areas, accessibility, responder safety and selection of appropriate cleaning agent to minimise impacts on fringing seagrasses, coral reefs and intertidal aquatic organisms.
Oil spills in port areas often result in both natural and man-made surfaces being contaminated.
Cleaning oil from marina structures, wharf piles, boat surfaces, concrete, rock walls and oil containment and recovery equipment is time-consuming and expensive.
The National Plan Environmental and Scientific Coordinators Workshop 2006 identified a need to evaluate natural plant-derived oil products for effectiveness as a shoreline and surface cleaning agent for bunker spills.
The workshop recommended that the National Plan consider the development of vegetable oil based products as a cleaning agent for oil on mangroves and other surfaces.
The particular vegetable oil based products identified by the Workshop as having significant potential were biodiesels.
Biodiesel can be made from soybean, rapeseed, sunflower, canola, palm or other plant oils, and also from animal fats.
The Centre for Marine Studies of The University of Queensland (through UniQuest) was commissioned to investigate the use of biodiesels to clean selected substances following a marine oil spill through a literature review and laboratory tests.
Based on the results of this first phase of investigations, further work is planned for 2009—11 to thoroughly investigate the net environmental benefit to various marine and coastal habitats and organisms of using biodiesel to combat heavy oil spills.