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I have heard this term a couple times. I can't tell if it's a good thing or a bad thing for the oil to be emulsifying. Does anyone have any knowledge on this?
 

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jw1973 (05/05/2010)I have heard this term a couple times. I can't tell if it's a good thing or a bad thing for the oil to be emulsifying. Does anyone have any knowledge on this?
In plain terms an emulsion is when two things that don't normally mixtogether (oil & water in this case) are made to mix. You can make a temporary emulsion by shaking up oil & water in a jar, but the emulsion will "break" pretty fast and the oil droplets will connect back to each other so that you have two layers again.

Mayonnaise is an emulsion. The acid from vinegar and the proteins from egg give the emulsion a structure and thickness which resists the oil flowing back together - unless you let it get hot, when the viscosity goes down and the oil starts going back together. Most emulsifiers, like soaps, have long molecules that attach to the oil on one end like a little magnet (this is called the lyophilic "oil loving"head) and coat it. The other end of the molecule does not want to attach to oil and can be lyophobic, "oil fearing" or hydrophilic, "water loving". If you mix oil, water, andsome emulsifiers not much will happen unless you agitate it in which case the oil will break up into little droplets just like when you shake a jar of oil& water, but the emulsifier coats the oil droplets and keeps them from running back together.

Some of the oil emulsions can be thick, like mayo and easy togather up, some can be dispersed and you can't clean them up BUT bacteria in the water that eat oil can get at the dispersed molecules better and eat them faster.

The most common dispersants are TSP and TSPP, trisodium phosphate and tetrasodium pyrophosphate. TSP also called calgon, which is dishwasher detergent. These dispersants are so active that it takes little or not agitation for them to attack and coat the oil.

They are probably putting something like TSP or TSPPin the oil at the leak.
 

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Fred, you seem to be mixing dispersion and emulsion, no pun intended. Dispersion basically means the oil is spreading through the water column, instead of floating on the surface. This happens to some extent naturally, orit can beencouraged by spraying dispersantsinto the spill. Dispersion can be good because it increases the surface area of the oil particles exposed to oxidation, which speeds biodegradation.

Emulsion refers to an oil-water mixture on the surface that occurs often with lighter-grade oils like what is leaking in the Gulf right now. Emulsion usually increases the persistence of oil, meaning that it takes longer to break down and is more likely to reach shores. So I would say emulsification is usually not a good thing.

To answer someone's question on another thread, biodegradation agents have been around for 20+ years, but they are generally out-competed by naturally occuring bacteria that breaks down the oil. Also, they take months to remove a substantial amount of oil, so are not viable as a first line of defense.

I found most of this information on this site: <a href="http://www.itopf.com/marine-spills/fate/weathering-process/">http://www.itopf.com/marine-spills/fate/weathering-process/</a> It is very informative, and reminds me of the quote that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. All the mistakes that the people in charge are making and will continue to make are detailed on this site.
 
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