The magic biopolymer gel

In focus: The magic biopolymer gel

  • The magic biopolymer was made by chemically treating ‘chitosan’, which is a natural biopolymer.
  • Chitosan is a polysaccharide present in chitins of organisms such as shrimp.
  • The chemically fabricated biopolymer gel can switch from being water-repelling in air and oil-repelling under water.
  • This is the first time that a material is made switchable, from superhydrophobic to superoleophobic.
  • As a result it can be used to separate oil or water from oil-water mixture.
  • Besides the gel can be used to separate various oil-water mixtures of different densities of oil such as crude oil, kerosene, motor oil, olive oil etc.


Solution for oil spills

  • Due to switchable water-repelling and oil-repelling property the biopolymer gel can be used in oil spills both large scale and small scale.
  • Land-based oil spill: In case of small-scale oil spill such as that on land, the gel can made water-repelling so that it can collect the oil.
  • Water-based oil spill: In case of large-scale oil spill, the gel can be made oil-repelling so that it can collect and remove water.


About Oil Spills

  • Oil Spill is basically leakage of oil and its products in the environment.
  • While oil spills are catastrophic when they occur in water, they can severely affect the environment when they occur on land too.
  • In water, the major oil spills occur due to accidents, release of crude oil from tankers, refuse of waste oil offshore, drilling rigs etc
  • Land-based oil spills occur due to leakage in tankers, vehicles etc.


Major Oil spills

  • Recent events of major oil spills include
    • Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Gulf of Mexico. (2010)
    • Exon Valdez oil spill in Alaska (1989)
    • Gulf war oil spill in Kuwait (1991)
    • 2014 Sundarbans oil spill in Shela River in Bangladesh Sundarbans.
    • 2017 Ennore oil spill in Kamarajar Port near Chennai.


Harmful effects

  • Oil spills cause severe mortality among seabirds.
  • The feathers of the seabird is significantly affects by oil thereby reducing their insulating ability and less buoyant in the water.
  • Oil during oil spills is consumed by planktons and bio-accumulate the entire marine food chain including fish, crabs and other aquatic animals.
  • Other marine mammals exposed to oil spill get severely affected in terms of insulating property.
  • Land-based oil spill cause soil and water pollution
  • Sunderban oil spill have severely affected the mangrove forests.



  • Bioremediation is the use of microorganisms to metabolize and remove oil during oil spills.
  • The bacteria used for bio-remediation could include sulfate-reducing bacteria, acid-producing anaerobic bacteria etc.


Advantage of biopolymer gel over bioremediation

  • While bioremediation is seen as a solution for oil spill, it significantly changes the ecology of the marine environment.
  • Anaerobic bacteria used in bioremediation of oil spill replace other aerobic bacteria in the marine ecosystem.
  • Besides the efficiency of biopolymer gel in removing oil spills is 95%.
  • Therefore the biopolymer gel could be a good solution to bioremediation.





Section : Environment & Ecology