Iowa State University awarded grant to develop green-chemicals for oil spill clean up

August 31st, 2010

AMES, Iowa — Finding greener methods to clean up the Gulf oil spill is the focus of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Rapid Response grant.

The grant was awarded to two Iowa State University faculty members who are collaborating with scientists and engineers from Modular Genetics, Inc., Columbia University and Louisiana State University (LSU). The grant will fund the production and testing of bio-dispersants that may replace petrochemical dispersants used currently for oil spill management.

"The project will use engineered microorganisms to convert biobased media into bio-dispersants using fermentation. These bio-dispersants could be used to clean up oil spills such as the Gulf oil spill," said Buddhi Lamsal, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, Center for Crops Utilization Research affiliate and lead investigator at Iowa State.

Iowa State will produce bio-dispersants using Bacillus strains engineered by Modular Genetics. The bio-dispersants will then be evaluated by Columbia University and LSU. The researchers hope to use soy hulls as the biobased starting material for large-scale production.

Columbia University will measure the ability of each preparation to disperse oil and bio-dispersants. Those dispersants will be evaluated by a team at LSU to determine toxicity to organisms critical to the Gulf ecosystem and economy.

Charles Glatz, Iowa State professor of chemical and biological engineering, will work to develop green methods to purify the products from the fermentation broth.

"This project will extend the potential impact of a related project we're doing that aims to convert the byproducts of aqueous processing of soybeans into biosurfactants," Glatz said.

"We expect the project to characterize the properties of about 100 potential bio-dispersants and the toxicity of about 20 of these," said Kevin Jarrell, corporate executive officer of Modular Genetics.

Iowa State will receive $98,988 to conduct its portion of the project. The team expects to complete the project during the next year.


Buddhi Lamsal, Food Science and Human Nutrition, 515-294-8681,

Charles Glatz, Chemical and Biological Engineering, 515-294-8472,

Darren Jarboe, Center for Crops Utilization Research, 515-294-2342,

Barbara McBreen, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communication Service, 515-294-0707,