Igor Golubenkov/Creative Commons

ScienceShot: How to Eat an Oil Spill

If Ben & Jerry’s really wants to help the environment, it might think about creating a new flavor of ice cream: Oil Spill Crunch. Researchers have developed an ecofriendly way to clean up oil spills that uses just a handful of ingredients—none of them petroleum-based, and all of them are commonly found in foods such as chocolate, ice cream, and peanut butter. One part of the recipe for the new dispersant—any mixture used to separate droplets in a suspension and keep them from clumping—is a cellulose-based polymer that sticks to the surface of oil droplets, thereby preventing them from tainting the feathers of seabirds and rendering them less buoyant and more susceptible to hypothermia. Other dispersants do the same job, but they can be toxic to wildlife. What’s more, the new dispersant’s ingredients can be quickly obtained in multiton quantities at a reasonable cost, the researchers report today at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. So, they suggest, the Coast Guard and other such agencies could keep small amounts of the dispersant on hand for initial rescue efforts and then readily make larger quantities as needed. If rescuers get hungry, they might even be able to eat it—though no one has tried just yet.

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