March 24th, is the 25th anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill. In Houston, at the Ship Channel, efforts continue to clean-up an oil spill that occurred over the weekend. Though the spill was on a smaller scale it still is taking a while to clean up. Oil spills are difficult to clean and there are still remains of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill from 25 years ago. This is why new technology is so important.
They are currently using containment booms and oil-retrieving skimmers to collect this oil. With technology from MIT recovering this oil would be much more productive and would reduce the economic impact of a spill. The idea is to magnetize the oil so that magnets can separate it from the water. The skimmers would collect water that has been contaminated with the oil and then water-repellent nanoparticles (that would be part iron) would be mixed into the polluted water mixing exclusively with the oil. The oil would then become magnetized allowing the oil to be magnetically separated from the seawater. This oil could then still be used at an oil refinery and the water could be returned to the sea.
Though this solution seems like a more efficient way to collect spilled oil there are many concerns. There is no data on how the nanoparticles could be affect marine life. There are also similar issues with current skimmers in that they are hindered by certain weather. There is also no mention on the approximate cost of the this technology and it’s costs could outweigh the benefits.
Many people think that this is a better small scale solution or should be implemented after the oil has been brought to shore. Overall though this small improvement in technology seems an interesting method to research but it isn’t going to be the revolutionary technology that makes cleaning oil spills a simple task.
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created this new sponge-like material called Aerogel that they believe will be the future in cleaning oil spills. The aerogel that have specifically created works well with oil spills because it soaks in the oil but not the water. The scientists have already patented this technology.
This aerogel seems really great because it allows the user to soak up the oil and squeeze it out. It also can be reused multiple times though it’s efficiency decreases per use. It can soak up 100 times its volume and over all it seems like a pretty environmentally friendly method to clean up oil spills. It also is created in a way that is less environmentally detrimental than other types of aerogel because it doesn’t depend on solvents.
There’s a video that shows how the aerogel actually works: http://vimeo.com/83866048
It shows how the aerogel doesn’t soak up water but soaks up gasoline. The aerogel works really quickly as you see it soak up all of the red dyed diesel in the water leaving the water looking clear.
This new technology still needs to be tested on a longer scale but it currently looks really promising and could make cleaning up oil spills a much faster and easier way than current methods. This new finding is really significant because past methods used to also soak up water so the fact that this aerogel is repelling the water but still soaking in the gasoline is a big deal in oil spill cleaning technology.