A product used in oil spill clean-ups around the world could provide a non-toxic alternative to the controversial chemical dispersant Corexit, New Zealand scientist Shane Carter says.
Mr Carter, who works for Morrinsville-based company Interface Chemistry, began investigating Elastol before the 2011 Rena disaster.
He said the product, which caused oil to stick to itself on the surface of water, was non-toxic, cheaper than oil dispersants and easy to use.
In an ocean environment Elastol could be sprayed on to an oil spill, and mixed through any wave action before being skimmed or vacuumed off the surface.
"It basically turns oil into a really runny chewing gum ... You can get almost 99 per cent of the oil," Mr Carter said.
Maritime NZ general manager safety and response services Nigel Clifford said the organisation was not aware of Elastol and did not have the resources to identify or investigate all such products.
Elastol appeared to be a "herder" of oil and such products were not generally considered for use in the open ocean because they required the oil to first be contained in a booming system, he said.
"If a booming system works in those conditions, the approach would be to recover oil using what are known as skimmers, without the addition of any other product," he said.
Mr Carter said Elastol could also be used to help clean up oil on sand and for cleaning oil from birdlife.
The challenge would be getting a maritime or port authority to accept Elastol as part of an oil spill plan, he said.
Manufactured in the United States, Elastol had been approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for oil control since 1993, Mr Carter said.
It was used in Russia on an oil tanker spill off the Crimean Peninsula in 2007.
It was first used in Australia in the 1990s by hovercraft company, Hover Mirage and was used by private companies in the United Kingdom and Europe, he said.
Two New Zealand companies were looking at using Elastol, which could also be used on diesel and petrol spills, as part of a "really effective spill kit", he said.
Mr Clifford said Maritime NZ was constantly reviewing options for oil spill response, but it had received no scientific information, or advice from overseas agencies, indicating a specific review of the status of Corexit products was warranted.
Three-thousand litres of Corexit, the oil dispersant used during the Rena clean-up, was being stored in drums at the Port of Tauranga.
The chemical no longer meets toxicity and effectiveness standards in Australia.
A Ban Corexit in New Zealand rally will take place at Mount Maunganui's main beach at 10.30am tomorrow.
Protesters plan to form a human chain representing a "line in the sand" on the use of Corexit in New Zealand waters.