LONDON, ENGLAND--(Marketwired - April 27, 2017) - In October last year, BP's Clare oil platform leaked 95 tonnes of oil into the North Sea. Far from the biggest spill in recent memory, the incident was nonetheless damaging to the local environment and costly for the company. It served as a reminder that accidents can and will happen when it comes to crude oil extraction, with technology lagging behind in terms of rectifying the problem. Currently, spills are treated by recourse to booms and skimmers. Booms are buoyant barriers that contain some of the spill, while skimmers are boats that can suck up oil from the surface. The method is fuel-intensive and does not take care of oil under the water's surface.
However, things are now looking up. A team at Canadian nanotechnology accelerator Ingenuity Lab has developed a game-changing piece of technology to aid in the cleanup of oil spills. The device consists of a carbon nanotube mesh, supplemented with minerals and polymers that cause it to act as a sponge, drawing in and retaining oil. What really differentiates the new technology from existing cleanup methods is its ability to reduce waste and clean both on and beneath the surface of a body of water. "If you want to clean up a spill as fast as possible, you have to get the heavier oil at the bottom as well", said Dr Carlo Montemagno, Director at Ingenuity Lab.
What's more, once saturated with oil, the sponge structure can be exposed to heat, electricity or ultraviolet light, causing it to release what it has collected. The recovered oil can then be reused, minimising both waste and environmental damage. The long-term plan is for the technology to be implemented as a standard tool on seagoing vessels.
The device has been successful in small-scale trials, and Natural Resources Canada recently greenlit a $1.7m grant for Ingenuity Lab to develop a large-scale version to challenge the status quo for crude oil cleanup operations. "It will do a better job [than existing methods] and make sure impact on the environment is minimised", explained Montemagno.
Ingenuity Lab hopes to begin real-world field testing within the next two years. The institution is already widely respected within the scientific community for its work in carbon transformation, regenerative healthcare and networked agriculture. This new technology serves as further evidence of the body's commitment to practical, effective research that leads to real solutions.