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Fighting Oil Spills

September 12, 2012

Food science and conservation biology come together to fight oil spills using a common ingredient in chocolate and peanut butter.



Saving birds with soy.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A common ingredient in chocolate and peanut butter could help break up oil spills and save wildlife. University of Southern Mississippi polymer chemist Lisa Kemp says oil-slicked birds can’t stay dry, and often die from exposure to the elements. But she says when soy lecithin – a readily available food product – is combined with other ingredients, it causes oil to disperse so it can’t stick to birds or other wildlife.

LISA KEMP (University of Southern Mississippi):

And that polymer prevents the oil from spreading onto surfaces like bird feathers.


She says soy lecithin helps keeps particles of chocolate and peanut butter well-dispersed, enhancing their creamy flavor. When deployed during an oil spill, that same property would prevent petroleum from sticking to feathers or fur. Kemp and her colleagues hope the new dispersant will help decrease the environmental impact of future spills. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

The same ingredient that gives chocolate its creamy texture could be used to fight oil spills. (Jupiter Images)