David Kirkpatrick

August 27, 2010

Oil spill news

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:18 pm

Came across two interesting news items on oil spills. One is on a technology developed by MIT researchers on cleaning up surface oil after a spill and the second involves the BP Deepwater Horizon spill and how microbes may be cleaning at least the oil in deep water plumes.

From the second link:

Microbes may become the heroes of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by gobbling up oil more rapidly than anyone expected. Now some experts suggest we ought to artificially stimulate such microbes in stricken marshland areas to aid their cleanup.

Evidence published this week shows that deep-water microbes in the Gulf may be rapidly chewing up BP’s spilled crude. This could sway federal authorities to use petroleum-digesting microbes or fertilizer additives that can stimulate naturally occurring bacteria for future spills. Such measures were originally rejected for the BP spill.

From the first link, the story on MIT’s oil spill clean-up tech comes from KurzweilAI.net:

MIT researchers unveil autonomous oil-absorbing robot

August 27, 2010 by Editor

Researchers at MIT have created a robotic prototype that could autonomously navigate the surface of the ocean to collect surface oil and process it on site.

The system, called Seaswarm, is a fleet of vehicles that may make cleaning up future oil spills both less expensive and more efficient than current skimming methods.

The Seaswarm robot uses a conveyor belt covered with a thin nanowire mesh to absorb oil. The fabric, previously featured in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, can absorb up to twenty times its own weight in oil while repelling water. By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused.

The Seaswarm robot, which is 16 feet long and seven feet wide, uses two square meters of solar panels for self-propulsion. With just 100 watts, the equivalent of one household light bulb, it could potentially clean continuously for weeks.

Using swarm behavior, the units will use wireless communication and GPS and manage their coordinates and ensure an even distribution over a spill site. By detecting the edge of a spill and moving inward, a single vehicle could clean an entire site autonomously or engage other vehicles for faster cleaning.

MIT researchers estimate that a fleet of 5,000 Seaswarm robots would be able to clean a spill the size of the gulf in one month. The team has future plans to enter their design into the X-Prize’s $1 million oil-cleanup competition. The award is given to the team that can most efficiently collect surface oil with the highest recovery rate.

By autonomously navigating the water’s surface, Seaswarm proposes a new system for ocean-skimming and oil removal. Video: Senseable City Lab

More info: MIT news