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Researchers focus on oil dispersant

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- LSU AgCenter scientists are partnering with researchers at Columbia University and Iowa State University on development of an environmentally friendly substance that could be used to clean up oil spills.

Andy Nyman, an LSU AgCenter wetlands biologist, and Chris Green, an LSU AgCenter toxicologist, are testing the chemical's toxicity on a baitfish known as the cocahoe minnow.

The $211,000 project is being funded for three years by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation.

The research is in reaction to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the recognized need for an effective, environmentally friendly dispersant, Nyman said.

The work focuses on developing less-toxic materials, called surfactants, which are important ingredients in many household products and in oil spill dispersants. Chemicals are classified as surfactants if they have surface properties that allow them to help oil and water mix.

Iowa State researchers are exploring a process using fermentation of bacteria, soybean wastes and bagasse. Columbia researchers are studying the substance's potential to disperse crude oil.

The study by the three universities is in its early stages, Nyman said. "I think we're a decade or two away from seeing something in the marketplace," he said.