Modern oil spill dispersant formulations are concentrated blends of surface active agents (surfactants) in a solvent carrier system. The surfactants are effective for lowering the interfacial tension of the oil slick and promoting and stabilizing oil-in-water dispersions. The solvent system has 2 key functions: 1) reduce viscosity of the surfactant blend to allow efficient dispersant application, and 2) promote mixing and diffusion of the surfactant blend into the oil film. A more detailed description than previously given in the literature is proposed to explain the mechanism of chemical dispersion and illustrate how the surfactant is delivered by the solvent to the oil-water interface.
Laboratory data are presented which demonstrate the variability in dispersing effectiveness due to different solvent composition, particularly for viscous and emulsified test oils with viscosities up to 20,500 mPa∙s. Other advantages of improved solvent components can include reduced evaporative losses during spraying, lower marine toxicity and reduced protective equipment requirements. Through this improved understanding of the role of the solvent, dispersants which are more effective over a wider range of oil types are being developed.