Colombian sisters develop product to safely clean up oil spills

World Today

Colombian sisters develop product to safely clean up oil spills

Each year, oil spills around the world harm people, plants and animals. Traditional methods of cleaning them up can take years, but two sisters in Colombia have developed a product they say can do the job in just days. CGTN’s Michelle Begue introduces us to them.

Colombia’s Comepez fish farm exports an estimated 2.5 million units of fish a month to the United States, Europe and Asia.

It is just two of the 93 fish farms in the Betania reservoir. So when diesel fuel contaminated these waters in 2017, the environmental emergency threatened the livelihood of hundreds of families.

“In terms of production, it could have had a huge impact, because it takes about a year to grow the fish in the area near the oil spill,” said Comepez Supervisor Jorge Castaneda.

Three years ago, Comepez hired the Solano sisters, after their Colombian-based company Solanco released a product that could be a possible solution to clean oil from water.

“We were looking at many solutions but none of them worked, because they could dissolve the diesel in the water, but they would kill the fish while doing so,” said Natalia Solano.

The twin sisters brought their invention called Godoil, a product that promised to decontaminate the area in just three days with no secondary effects.

The Godoil project started as a thesis idea in 2005 when Tatiana was studying to be an industrial engineer. Almost a decade later, while working for Colombian oil giant Ecopetrol, Tatiana wanted to make the idea a reality.

“In one month, we suffered leaks at nine oil pipelines and wells from guerilla attacks,” said Tatiana Solano. “As the social and environmental effects increased, so did the sense of helplessness as we saw the loss of crops, water and livelihoods.”

With her twin sister Natalia, a chemical biologist, she came up with a plant-based product that was safe for the environment, quick to act and could be made locally. The oil is made from vegetable extracts, including coconut oil and the Sacha inchi plant, along with minerals that break up the petroleum.

“This product, when it comes into contact with hydrocarbons, turns them into nano particles, so that, to the naked eye, it appears to have disappeared, but what has happened is that it has turned into a nano particle that doesn’t affect the environment,” said Natalia Solano.

And it is all natural. The sisters claim that while other oil spill clean ups can take years or even decades to reverse damages, Godoil does the job in days and at most a month.

The Solano sisters also wanted a solution that was affordable. A one liter container of Godoil sells for $17. But only half of this was needed to remove the 20 liters of diesel fuel that was spilled in the Betania reservoir.

Since entering the market in 2016, Solanco says Godoil has helped recover 126 hectares of land and water, including two nature reserves in Colombia.  At just 33 years of age, these women are thinking big, and they want to share their discoveries with the world.

“We want our business model to be used by other companies, not just Solanco but by companies around the world,” said Tatiana Solano. “We want to share our experiences, because Colombia has a great variety of ecosystems to learn from.”

Hopefully future generations will be able to enjoy the those rich ecosystems that are saved by the Godoil product.