Final Blog Post

Throughout this project I learned about a ton of different ways to clean up oil spills. A positive side effect of the BP oil spill was that the company and many universities are putting a lot of money into funding research to find new technology to prevent and clean oil spills. Many researchers are looking for ways to mitigate the harmful effects through new technology or natural methods such as mushrooms and bacteria. A few of them are even looking for ways to prevent oil spills such as the virtual wall. These new methods are really great but majority of the ones I found are still being developed and won’t reach the market for a while. Some of the methods such as the aerogel and the nanoparticles seem less plausible on a larger scale which sets the research back. The research project on using mushrooms is also facing problems but in regards to funding.

Though all of these methods are necessary due to the world’s dependence on oil, the best solution overall would to reduce our oil use and move towards greener energy. There are many European countries moving towards this oil free future. Sweden has been working on becoming completely oil free since the 1970s  and hopes to break their dependency in 2020. Denmark has started plans to be oil free by 2050. There are new green cities such as Masdar in Abu Dhabi which is planned around the idea that it will run entirely on renewable resources.

The reality is we will continue to have oil spills and these new technologies may really help mitigate their effects on the environment. Also some of these project will still have applications even if the entire world moved away from oil, the mushrooms and the bacteria would help clean up the soils and waterways that have been affected by oil spills in the past. Exxon-Valdez spill still can be found in the soil in the spill zone and these natural methods could be solution. In the end, the United States dependence on oil will continue and with the possible new implementation of the keystone pipeline, it seems this dependence will be lasting for a while.

 

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New Bacteria could help solve our oil spill issues.

A student in Canada attending Marianopolis College found a strain of Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria that can digest-oil. This strain is currently believed to be a brand new strain of bacteria. Nivatha Balendra, found this bacteria while working on a science project, she is currently a finalist in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She wanted to focus on environmentally-friendly solutions to clean up oil spills. 

Bacteria is one natural way to clean up oil spills. Norwegian scientists conducted a multitude of tests to see how well bacteria works to clean up oil spills. They found that in their natural state after a month the bacteria did very little to clean up the oil. They concluded that the problem was that the bacteria was not in the concentrations necessary to clean up these oil spills. They increased the bacteria population by adding nutrients and adjusting different variables.

To make this bacteria work outside of a laboratory they have planned capsules that they can attach to rocks that would provide the bacteria with the necessary growing conditions.

The bacteria Nivatha Balendra might be a really good step towards cleaning up oil spills but the study done in Norway shows that it takes a little more than just letting the bacteria clean up after us we still need to help the bacteria out a bit.

Feeding the Mushrooms

The Amazon Mycorenewal Project (AMP) is working to increase the use of mushrooms within the Amazon to clean up oil spills. These mushrooms ingest and break down “petroleum hydrocarbons”.  AMP is doing great work to make knowledge about this mushroom and how to implement it well known. Their goal is to use this mushroom to help clean up the multiple oil spills in the Amazon due to poorly managed oil exploration.

AMP has a fundraiser on Indiegogo to raise money to probably document all of their research and to make transparent to others. Their project’s goal is to reach out to NGOs and different communities that are affected by all of these oil spills. This new use of these mushrooms could help clean up water supplies and if strategically placed at the end of petroleum waste pipes. These mushrooms would filter the water and clean up the oil before allowing it to spread, combined with other plants they would create a biofiltration system.

The project focuses on areas in the Amazon but if the project gets enough funding, AMPs goal is to also implement these mushrooms in West Virginia. The overall fundraising goal is 50,ooo unfortunately though their fundraising page has been available since April 8th, they have only been able to accumulate about 4,500. They do have 30 days left and if the project is well promoted it might reach it’s final goal.

Included is a video about this research:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYBXOyS8qf8

Repeat of the Past

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.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/21/tech/oil-spill-magnets/

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/03/24/oil-spill-cleanup-blocks-major-texas-shipping-channel/

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2014/03/houston-oil-clean-up-on-25th-anniversary-of-exxon-valdez-spill/

Aerogel Technology

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.

http://www.jsonline.com/business/oil-spill-cleanup-by-sponge-madison-scientists-tout-tidy-technology-b99203524z1-246810051.html

http://cleantechnica.com/2014/02/28/aerogel-technology-offers-great-potential-oil-chemical-spill-cleanup/

Robotic Fish

Oil travels thousands of miles to reach it’s final destination whether that is our vehicles, our products or our food. It is drilled in various places around the world and due to the vast amount of area that oil is moved around many different ecosystems are affected.

Researchers at Northwestern have created a robot that have fish like qualities. This robot moves like a fish which makes it very mobile but it is also is very stable. This is a new breakthrough in robotic technology as there usually is a tradeoff between mobility or stability.

The research hope that with this new technology it will be easier to monitor oil spills and fix oil rigs. One of the creators mentions how during the BP oil spill some of the robots used were not as mobile and so the process of capping the oil well heads took a lot longer and really delayed the process.

This robot was created through biomimicry of the “electric black ghost knifefish of the Amazon basin.”

knifefish

This fish was selected because of it’s ability to sense things with the use of a self-generated electric field. It is also able to swim in any direction due to it’s long fin on it’s underside.

Including these qualities on a robot really adds mobility as the fin design lets the fish move in different directions quicklier than past designs. The addition of an electric-field generation will be helpful for the robot as the goal is that it will be working in deep sea where there is often little to no lighting.

The researchers are still working on different prototypes but they have high hopes for their invention.

Here’s a short video of the researcher explaining how his robot works:

 

Oil Spoils the World

The United States on it’s own consumes 18.55 million barrels of oil. This is more than any other country in the world. To fulfill our oil needs not only do we drill for oil on our own land but we also import a lot of oil from other countries, some of these across oceans. The US is not the only country though that uses oil, as oil is used worldwide. The global market of oil along with offshore drilling allows for the possible risk of an oil spill. Oil spills are harmful to the environment destroying ecosystems and to the economy as remediation of the area has to be paid for and the local businesses are negatively impacted. 

The first oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859. From then on more wells have been dug and the risk of an oil spill occurring has increased. Oil spills can happen for various reasons and can happen at any stage of getting the oil. It call also happen if a rig is damaged or the boats carrying the oil get in some sort of accident. 

Offshore drilling causes oil spills in the ocean and can travel quickly depending on the type of oil that was released. Offshore drilling is also controversial because it brings up other chemicals from the earth polluting the water. The use of seismic waves to locate oil disorients aquatic life causing devastating events like beached whales. At the same time with new technology offshore drilling is not as dangerous and less oil has been spilt recently than in the past.  

All of the drilling and transportation of oil can cause problems if there are spills and so various technologies have been created to deal with this problem. The first method used is to contain the oil to limit the spread. This is known as mechanical containment or recovery. There are also various chemical and biological methods such as using dispersants, chalk sponges or peat moss. Other methods include washing the soil or using skimmers to collect the oil.

The newest method is to create a virtual wall to create an invisible barrier to prevent oil spills from spreading. This new technology is being developed by the University of Missouri. It was created to help research study oil on a microscopic level but can be expanded to larger areas. This barrier would keep the oil in a predetermined area making it a lot easier to manage. This barrier works because it repels the oil.  Researchers hope that this technology can eventually be used to transport oil without any spills.