Natural fungal absorber which eats up oil pollution, is released in UK

08 June 2001, sourceĀ edie newsroom

An organic, non-toxic, non-leaching and sustainably-produced absorbent will hit the UK market in the next month. The product, aptly named SupaZorb, soaks up hydrocarbons and other noxious chemicals and breaks them down to nothing more than carbon dioxide and water. And, unlike similar products, the natural micro-organisms, that form part of the absorbent, remain in the environment and clean up future spills should they occur without further application of the product.

SupaZorb has been developed by a South African company, Impact Chemical Corporation, as an environmentally-friendly alternative to the chemically-based products currently used to clean oil spills. It is composed of four plant species which, in total, host seven species of fungi which are the active ingredients of the product. In the wild, plants produce natural surfactants on their surfaces - chemicals similar to hydrocarbons that provide a barrier to protect the leaves and which are naturally broken down and injested by fungi and bacteria. Impact Chemical Corp harnesses this ability and puts it to use by digesting compounds that range from oil, petroleum, oil-based paints and other hydrocarbons. And, importantly, unlike conventional products which rely on bacteria that can only operate in a narrow range of temperatures, the fungi thrive on extremes as far apart as 5C to 55C.

Frans Wilson, owner of Impact Chemical Corp, is enthusiastic about the wide range of applications that the product can be used for, "SupaZorb can even be applied to birds covered in oil spills with no harmful effects. Simply spread the adsorbent on the surface of a pool of water and chase the birds through until they are coated with SupaZorb. It normally takes about seven days to rid them of their noxious coating, depending on the type of hydrocarbon and thickness of the layer on their feathers." Cleaning up an oil spill takes a little longer, about two months, after which no further treatment action is necessary as the plant fibres biodegrade naturally.

One of the main plant ingredients are needles from the Casuarina pine tree, an Australian species imported to South African in the early 1980s to stabilise sand dunes undermined by a local mining company. Although the fungus is present in its native Australia, where pine needle carpets can be four times as thick as in South Africa, it appears not to be as active. Wilson believes that it is the particular combination of salt spray, temperature and humidity in Richards Bay that gives the fungus this unusual property. Wilson has an ongoing collaboration with the University of Pretoria to research the plant and fungal species that make up the product.

SupaZorb originally had a rather cold welcome by industry but after offering free trials, both private companies and the South African Department of Water Affairs were so impressed that orders came pouring in. The product is currently being used on a commercial scale in Nigeria and Botswana, and Wilson is planning to expand into the United States.

Impact Chemical Corporation can be contacted at their Scottish office, tel: 01667 454501, fax: 01667 454455.