Effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will last for years to come but biodiesel producers are beginning an effort to encourage use of methyl esters, the chemical yielded in production of biodiesel that can be turned into a bio-based solvent considered a shoreline washing agent, to clean up the oiled shorelines. Randall Von Wedel, Principal Biochemist of CytoCulture International, a company that started the method of using methyl esters in the 1990s, says the chemical dispersants used in the Gulf have been criticized because they just dissolve the oil back into the water. Von Wedel says a bio-based solvent actually removes the oil from impacted vegetation and shoreline and floats it into the water for easy recovery.
National Biodiesel Board Technical Director Steve Howell says the product is also green because it can be recycled. Howell says biodiesel is America's first commercially available, advanced biofuel and one of its main benefits is displacing crude oil, which it can also clean up.
To remove the oil with methyl esters the solvent would be sprayed from shallow draft boats onto the oil-covered vegetation or small beaches normally unreachable by land. Once it's applied, a mist of seawater rinses the dissolved oil mixture off plants and shores for recovery. Von Wedel recently traveled to the Gulf and submitted documentation on his product, CytoSol Biosolvent, which he says has been submitted in a proposal by a BP contractor and the U.S. Coast Guard to enhance a mechanical beach cleaning technology. Howell says it's just another example of what biodiesel producers can contribute to society.