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Tree barks can help solve oil spills

September 20, 2006

By Rudy A. Fernandez
The Philippine Star 09/05/2006

A TREE bark-based industry to help counter the country’s increasing problem of oil spills?

Why not?

A tree bark is a good material for absorbing pollutants, including oil spills in marine waters, according to the Los Baños, Laguna-based Department of Science and Technology-Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI).

In other countries, particularly the developed ones in Asia, North America and Europe, tree barks are being used to absorb liquid pollutants, Dr. Florence Soriano, FPRDI director, told The STAR.

“The Philippines produces a lot of waste barks because we have about 653,000 hectares of industrial tree plantations established by both the government and private groups,” said FPRDI chemist Jennifer Tamayo.

She said the bark makes up 10 to 20 percent of a trunk’s total volume and regarded as waste in industrial tree plantations.

What is needed, according to Tamayo, is the technology to harvest barks without harming the trees or to gather barks from trees felled for commercial use.

Tamayo, who holds a Master of Science in chemistry education from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, has studied the potential of tree barks in cleaning water polluted with toxic metals.

Under the guidance of Dr. Maxima Flavier of UPLB, Tamayo looked into the potential of the barks of eight tree species to trap ions (atoms) of lead and chromium in the wastewater of a steel galvanizing plant.

Lead causes kidney and liver cancer, while chromium triggers biological mutations.

The species were raintree (acacia or Samania saman), mangium (Acacia mangium), bagras (Eucalyptus deglupta), river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), moluccan sau (Paraserienthes falcataria), gubas (Endospermum peltatum), kaatoan bangkal (Anthocephalus chinensis), and yemane (Gmelina arborea).

Gubas and river red gum showed the best results since their barks removed the most ions and did not impart color in a solution, Tamayo said.

“Barks of these species can be used for wastewater treatment in process industries,” she added.

Tamayo said barks have tannins, lignins, organic acids and cellulose that can absorb or trap heavy metals in a solution.

“They have the potential to substitute for costly synthetic adsorbents presently imported by the wastewater treatment industry at (a cost of) about $8 million a year,” she said.

The experiment showed that barks could remove 96 to 100 percent lead and 84 to 90 percent chromium from wastewater.

Soriano said, “This technology, once adopted, could help make industries better able to comply with present and future environmental laws.”

And a good tool in controlling oil spills, too.

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