Study Shows Sugar Molecules Can Remove Crude Oil from Sand

This image depicts the structure of a β –cyclodextrin host-guest complexation. The Plane View shows the seven glucose units in a B-cyclodextrin surrounding a guest PAH molecule. The 3-D view shows the non-polar interior and the circular polar exteriors. (Image provided by Heng Gao)

(Click to enlarge) This image depicts the structure of a β –cyclodextrin host-guest complexation. The Plane View shows the seven glucose units in a B-cyclodextrin surrounding a guest PAH molecule. The 3-D view shows the non-polar interior and the circular polar exteriors. (Image provided by Heng Gao)

Researchers found that bounded ring-shaped sugar molecules (cyclodextrin) are effective at extracting crude oil from sand.

Their results provide important information to evaluate the use of these compounds in future efforts to clean up oiled shores. They published their findings in the May 2012 edition of the Journal of Environmental Monitoring: Assessment of cyclodextrin-enhanced extraction of crude oil from contaminated porous media.

Previous studies tested cyclodextrin as an extraction agent for simple compounds; however, researchers in this study used complex petroleum compounds, providing the “first dataset of this type of cyclodextrin yet assembled for an actual crude oil.” Researchers infused sand with Macondo oil and ran a series of batch analyses, each with increased concentrations of cyclodextrin mixed with deionized water. Their analyses showed a linear relationship between increased concentrations of cyclodextrin and increased amounts of alkanes and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) extracted from the oiled sand. When researchers used only water, their analysis showed that 0.04% of the total mass of alkanes and 0.21% of the total PAHs were removed from the contaminated sand. These numbers increased to 3.13% of alkanes and 32.12% of PAHs when they added 20% of cyclodextrin solutions to the mix. In their discussions, the authors offer that their findings of correlations might provide future studies with “a means for accurately estimating cyclodextrin extraction enhancement factors.”

The study authors are Heng Gao, Martin S. Miles, Buffy M. Meyer, Roberto L. Wong, and Edward B. Overton (Journal of Environmental Monitoring 2012, 14, 2164).

This research is made possible by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC). The GoMRI is a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by an agreement between BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident and the potential associated impact of this and similar incidents on the environment and public health.

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