Soy lecithin is found in a myriad of products from margarine to chocolate to tea bags. It is derived from soyabean oil and used in foods as an emulsifier. It is the emulsifier properties of soy lecithin that researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University are particularly interested in.
Ram B. Gupta and colleagues explain that applying chemicals that disperse the oil in an ocean spill is one of the most effective ways to help get rid of oil spills quickly. These work by breaking down oil into small droplets that bacteria can then degrade. But some of these chemicals can be harmful to cleanup crews and aquatic life.
To solve this issue Gupta and his team looked for a more natural solution and discovered that soy lecithin was very effective at dispersing oil without harming wildlife. The researchers separated crude soy lecithin into its lipid components. Then, they tested how well these lipids could break down oil in water in the lab.
In lab tests they even found the compounds worked as well as or slightly better than two commercial dispersants available on the market today.