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Transportation Center for
Communities of Concern

Research Project:
Remediation of Oil Products Spillage During Transportation

University: University of Missouri-Kansas City

Principal Investigator(s): Zahra Niroobakhsh

Project Description:

This proposal aims to mitigate the oil spill from the road and water surface using commercial and sustainable dispersants. Frequent spillage of crude oils and refined products during transportation pollutes the transportation lines, sewages, and surface waters, which can have serious environmental consequences. The prevalent technique for treating oil spills is to apply chemical dispersants to the floating crude oil on the surface of the water. Dispersants break up the oil slicks into smaller droplets, enhancing their natural dispersion and degradation in the water, which in turn reduces the toxicity of the oil products.

US DOT Priorities:

This project addresses the frequent oil spills during transportation that pollute transportation lines, sewages, and surface waters, which can have severe environmental consequences. By proposing the use of commercial and sustainable dispersants to mitigate these spills, the project contributes to the preservation of the environment and minimizes the adverse impacts of oil pollution on ecosystems. Additionally, it advances and transforms current practices by exploring sustainable alternatives to traditional chemical dispersants.


This study focuses on the dispersion efficiency of oil in the water using commercial chemical dispersants and sustainable surfactants. The approach includes a procedure in which oil, dispersants, and seawater will be mixed under a stated set of agitation, and then the amount of oil dispersed into the water will be determined. The dispersed oil mixture will be extracted and characterized in a spectrophotometer to determine the percentage of oil effectively dispersed in the seawater due to dispersants. We will follow the standardized protocols developed by the U.S. EPA for these measurements.

In the next step, we will study the quality and emulsification properties of the collected dispersed oil-in-water samples from the previous procedure to understand the interfacial mechanism underlying the dispersant effectiveness and how these parameters could affect the aerosolization processes in future tasks. The visualization of dispersed oil-in-water will be performed and recorded using optical microscopy to identify the number, average size, distribution, and coalescence evolution of droplets larger than 0.5 μm in diameter (see Figure 1). To measure the coalescence, the number and distribution of droplets will be observed over time, and the fraction of droplets larger than the averaged droplet size will be monitored. More effective dispersants can make smaller droplets that remain stable over a longer time due to higher resistance to coalescence. Next, the oil-seawater interfacial tension will be measured for different dispersant systems using Interfacial Tensiometry. The effective dispersants were shown to produce oil-seawater interfacial tension values ≤ 10-4 mN/m.

Figure 1: The preliminary data showing the image and histogram of the emulsified O/W droplets dispersed by AOT single surfactant (left) and commercial Finasol® OSR-52 dispersant (right). The use of a commercial dispersant resulted in many smaller droplets. The image postprocessing is done using the ImageJ software. The samples were observed under an optical microscope (AmScope, T490B-10MT).


The proposed research provides methods and data for effectively remedying the oil spill during transportation. Current established policies on the remediation of the oils are more relevant for the oil spillage events on the ocean. However, the recent effort seeks optimization of the methods and the usage of the dispersants related to the spillage of the oils in the transportation routes. The output can inform the policy decisions and change the practice. As a result, the outcome of the results can prevent environmental consequences due to the pollution in transportation lines, sewages, and surface waters.

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