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If anything good came out of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it was that it got people thinking about technologies for cleaning up future spills. While things like magnetic soap, nanosponges, and autonomous robots are all in the works, a group of scientists recently announced the results of their research into another possibility – oil droplet-gathering microsubmarines. Read More
Last week we looked at the development of “hydrate-phobic” surfaces that could assist in the containment of oil leaks in deep water. Now, by adding boron to carbon while growing nanotubes, researchers have developed a nanosponge with the ability to absorb oil spilled in water. Remarkably, the material is able to achieve this feat repeatedly and is also electrically conductive and can be manipulated with magnets. Read More
As the world’s appetite for oil and gas continues to increase while access to easily accessible reserves decreases, deep-sea oil and gas wells are being positioned in ever-deeper waters. The dangers and difficulties faced in such operations were highlighted in 2010 with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While placing a containment dome over a leak and piping the oil to a surface storage vessel had worked on leaks in shallower water, the attempt to do the same on the Deepwater Horizon’s largest leak failed when the formation of methane hydrate crystals blocked the opening at the top of the dome. Now researchers at MIT have developed surface coatings that can inhibit the buildup of these methane hydrates and keep the gas and oil flowing. Read More
When oil gets spilled in a waterway, clean-up crews will often introduce a solution known as a surfactant. This is a detergent that lessens the surface tension between the water and the overlaying oil slick, causing the oil to form into individual droplets which then sink or get dispersed by wave action. Unfortunately, such detergents aren’t entirely environmentally-friendly themselves, so the use of them on oil spills has been criticized as simply replacing one pollutant with another. Now, however, scientists from the University of Bristol have created a magnetic soap, that could be removed from the water once it had done its job. Read More
Last July, in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the X PRIZE Foundation launched the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE. As with previous X PRIZE competitions, this one was intended to encourage private sector scientific research, by offering a cash prize to whichever team could best meet a given challenge. In this case, teams had to demonstrate a system of their own making, that could recover oil from a sea water surface at the highest Oil Recovery Rate (ORR) above 2,500 US gallons (9,463.5 liters) per minute, with an Oil Recovery Efficiency (ORE) of greater than 70 percent. Today, the winning teams were announced. Read More
Although it may have missed the entry deadline for the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X-CHALLENGE, a new technology for containing oil spills at sea was recently unveiled. Developed by Norwegian research organization SINTEF, the system uses a curtain of air bubbles to contain spilled oil for easier removal, or to form a barrier around protected areas. Read More
If there was one thing that last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill showed us, it was that there were no particularly good systems in place for containing and removing such spills while the oil is still out at sea. One year later, although many companies and individuals have come forward with their concepts for such systems, little has actually been developed to the point of being ready for deployment. In order to generate some incentive, and provide financial support to the cream of the crop, the X PRIZE Foundation is now in the midst of its US$1.4 million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE. Although the competition has been under way since January, the ten finalist teams were announced just last week. Read More
Imagine if every time you bought a pair of socks, you automatically threw them out after six months, regardless of their condition. While you would certainly always have newer socks, you would also likely end up throwing away quite a few pairs that could have lasted a while longer. When it comes to changing the oil in our vehicles, most of us do take the “every X miles” approach, however, as there’s no easy way of telling if that oil really needs to be changed ... or is there? The designers of Lubricheck claim that their device will save money and minimize discarded oil, by analyzing samples of engine oil and letting drivers know if it’s still good. Read More
The United States imports approximately one million barrels of oil per day from Canada, which is about twice the amount that it gets from Saudi Arabia. A large percentage of that oil comes from tar sand deposits, in which bitumen (a tar-like form of crude oil) is found combined with sand. The tar sands – also known as oil sands – are hugely controversial, as many people state that the process used for extracting the oil from the sand is too ecologically-unfriendly. A new technique being pioneered at Penn State University, however, could drastically reduce the environmental impact of that process. Read More
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill earlier this year prompted many researchers to concentrate their efforts on developing better ways to clean up oil after such disasters. We’ve looked at approaches such as autonomous robots and underwater separators to collect the oil while it is still at sea, but students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have developed a novel approach to dealing with the oil once it winds up on shore – a vacuum cleaner. Read More