Self assembly, mobilization, and flotation of crude oil contaminated sand particles as granular shells on gas bubbles in water

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Jan 1;574:437-442. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.109. Epub 2016 Oct 14.


Contaminant fate and transport studies and models include transport mechanisms for colloidal particles and dissolved ions which can be easily moved with water currents. However, mobilization of much larger contaminated granular particles (i.e., sand) in sediments have not been considered as a possible mechanism due to the relatively larger size of sand particles and their high bulk density. We conducted experiments to demonstrate that oil contaminated granular particles (which exhibit hydrophobic characteristics) can attach on gas bubbles to form granular shells and transfer from the sediment phase to the water column. The interactions and conditions necessary for the oil contaminated granular particles to self assemble as tightly packed granular shells on the gas bubbles which transfer from sediment phase to the water column were evaluated both experimentally and theoretically for South Louisiana crude oil and quartz sand particles. Analyses showed that buoyancy forces can be adequate to move the granular shell forming around the air bubbles if the bubble radius is above 0.001mm for the sand particles with 0.28mm diameter. Relatively high magnitude of the Hamaker constant for the oil film between sand and air (5.81×10-20J for air-oil-sand) indicates that air bubbles have high affinity to attach on the oil film that is on the sand particles in comparison to attaching to the sand particles without the oil film in water (1.60×10-20J for air-water-sand). The mobilization mechanism of the contaminated granular particles with gas bubbles can occur in natural environments resulting in transfer of granular particles from sediments to the water column.

Keywords: Air bubbles; Contaminant transport; Contaminated sediments; Granular particles; Oil spills; Self assembly.