Dentritic polymers as biocompatible dispersants for oil spill remediation

EPA Grant Number: R835182
Title: Dentritic polymers as biocompatible dispersants for oil spill remediation
Investigators: Ladner, David A. , Ke, Pu-Chun , Powers, Sean P , Whelton, Andrew J
Institution: Clemson University , University of South Alabama
EPA Project Officer: Lasat, Mitch
Project Period: May 15, 2012 through May 14, 2015 (Extended to May 14, 2016)
Project Amount: $500,000
RFA: Environmental Impact and Mitigation of Oil Spills (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Ecosystems


Dendritic polymers have recently been shown to encapsulate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other hydrophobic materials. We hypothesize that similar interactions will occur with crude oil components, thus allowing oil to be dispersed. Our objective is to gain a fundamental understanding of the interactions of dendritic polymers with crude oil, taking toxicity and biodegradability into consideration. Our community outreach program objectives are to use community input in developing the research and to educate a broad audience about current and novel dispersants and their environmental impacts.


We will examine the dispersing capacities of polyamidoamine (PAMAM) dendrimer and hyperbranched polyethylenimine polymer for linear, cyclic, and aromatic hydrocarbons, the components of crude oil, using comprehensive biophysical and analytical methods. The biocompatibility and environmental safety of the dendritic polymers will be examined for mammalian cells and marine bacteria Vibrio fischeri, model systems for aquatic organisms, using toxicological assays. We will deploy the polymers with Louisiana Sweet Crude in microcosm experiments that allow their effectiveness and biodegradability to be tested. Comparisons with Corexit 9500A and other conventional dispersants will be made.

Our community outreach program features a workshop series where community members will perform their own microcosm experiments to evaluate the effects of conventional and novel dispersants. They will independently analyze their results, then come together to discuss and make extrapolations to the larger environment. Video, photography, and written media will be created for dissemination. The materials will be synthesized into an exhibit that will be housed at the Estuarium, the public aquarium of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) in Mobile, Alabama.

Expected Results:

The knowledge gained here will enable dendritic polymer dispersant design based on fundamental principles of polymer-hydrocarbon interactions. It will be the first information about using dendritic polymers as dispersants, allowing further development by the research team and others. If successful, these novel dispersants will improve our ability to protect the environment and public health by providing a biocompatible and biodegradable means of dispersing oil spills.

Our outreach program will educate four communities about the benefits and risks of conventional and novel dispersants. They will then be better able to put their recent oil-spill experience into appropriate context, having hands-on and personal information. They will be the voice in disseminating this knowledge to the broader Gulf Coast public, making the information more accessible and meaningful. Lessons learned can serve to educate managers of future oil spills to appropriately involve the communities in cleanup efforts.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 18 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 7 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

seawater, bioavailability, exposure, remediation, community-based, petroleum,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • 2014 Progress Report
  • Final Report