In the seven years since world news was dominated by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, more than just a Hollywood blockbuster has been produced to highlight what needed to change, and the most positive has been the arrival of new techniques and technologies. This is likely because we learned two major things from that horrendous event: we need to better contain such spills and we need to improve when it comes to cleaning up polluted waters.
The point is this: hopefully, the next time a disaster like this happens, the innovations blow will allow us to severely reduce the impact:
Gravity Not Chemicals
One of the most promising innovations in oil spill technology is the smart filter that was invented at the University of Michigan. What this smart filter does, in essence, is strain the oil from the water by using a nanomaterial coating that repels oil but attracts water. Trust us, they tried and tested this technology in various conditions, and the result was a 99.9% success rate.
Time For Stop Valves
This technology may not be anything new, but it has become a staple ingredient across the field. What oil stop valves do is contain the bulk of any oil spills to a designated area, allowing the stores of stormwater to drain in non-spill conditions. The most brilliant part of this innovation comes in the form of automation; it has a fail-safe valve that knows the difference between water and oil.
This plant used to have just one purpose and that was playing food source for the monarch caterpillar. However, this plant has since proved it can play an even more important role and that is absorbing oil. In fact, the fibers in the seed pods can absorb up to four times the amount of oil as the polypropylene materials that are currently used during spills. Four times the amount. And they are natural. As such, there are companies out there that have begun making clean-up kits out of milkweed fibers. Some of the kits are already in action too, being used on small spills. And here is the bonus, by manufacturing more milkweed, we are also providing more food for the monarch butterfly, which is endangered. Amazing.
If you have seen any footage of what a typical oil spill clean-up process entails, then you will likely know that the oil is either burned or skimmed off the top. To say this is inefficient would be kind. It is also extremely harmful because it prevents the oil from being reused, which sucks because oil isn’t exactly easy to make. However, a new technique to come straight out of the labs at MIT is able to lift the oil out of the water using magnets. They simply mix water-repellent ferrous nanoparticles into an oil plume and just lift the oil out. Not only would this allow us to reuse the spilled oil in future, it would also greatly offset the cost of a clean-up, a lot of which is government (read: taxpayers) money.