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University of Ulster researchers are leading a project to develop new environmentally friendly methods of cleaning up devastating oil spills.

Professor Ibrahim Banat and Emeritus Professor Roger Marchant are spearheading research in a major EU initiative, Kill Spill, which aims to find natural rather than chemical solutions to marine oil disasters such as the BP tragedy in US waters four years ago.

“The aim of this initiative is to develop new and innovative approaches to the remediation of marine oil spills, particularly those accidental spills in the 7-70 tonne range,” said Professor Banat from the university’s Biomedical Sciences Research Institute.

“Traditionally oil slicks are dispersed using conventional chemical surfactants which are effective but are not themselves degradable and can damage the environment in many ways.

“Although large quantities of the spilt oil can be removed by physical means - booms and skimming - this removal is never complete. The next step is to disperse the oil slick into small droplets that can be more easily degraded by the micro-organisms and this is where the biosurfactants being produced by our team of researchers at the University of Ulster are critical.

“The Kill Spill technology being developed by the University has already delivered impressive results using enhanced forms of marine micro-organisms, that are naturally present in the environment to achieve complete clean-up.

“This is leading edge research that has a clear international impact and will undoubtedly reduce the environmental and marine impact of oil spills in the future.”

The Kill Spill project is co-ordinated from Greece and has 32 partners drawn from many of the EU member states. Its funding, by EU Framework 7, totals around €9 million of which more than €300,000 is dedicated to University of Ulster research.