Chemical In Oyster Shells May Help Clean Oil Spills

June 18, 1998

CLEMSON -- An absorbent chemical in oyster shells could help clean up oil spills or even keep diapers dryer, according to a study by Clemson University scientists.

A.P. "Hap" Wheeler, a biological sciences professor at Clemson University, said that amino acids in the shells form gels that can absorb 80-100 times their weight in water. By analyzing the chemical structure, he and university co-workers created new polymers that are attracting industry attention because they could help clean oil spills, speed water treatment or even be used to make diapers dryer.

The National Sea Grant featured the Clemson study, along with others, at a conference in New York this week. Conference organizers hope biotech companies will look to the sea for new breakthroughs in medicine and bioengineered products.

Proteins derived from oyster shells can also inhibit the growth of minerals, making them ideal water-treatment additives in boilers, cooling towers and mining and off-shore oil-drilling operations. Proteins may also be used in laundry detergents because they can be designed to bond with soil particles, suspending them so the soil is not deposited back on clean laundry.

Illinois-based Donlar Corp., which works extensively with Wheeler, has also introduced the compound for use in agriculture. The polymer enhances plants -- uptake of nutrients from the soil, which could allow farmers to use less fertizer -- subsequently saving them money and protecting the environment.

Wheeler and Donlar Corp.'s work with the degradable polymer won them the Environmental Protection Agency's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.

Clemson University

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