It’s a little disheartening to write about technology for mopping up oils spills as there doesn’t to be much improvement in the situation as Adele Peters notes in her June 4, 2021 article (A decade after Deepwater Horizon, we’re still cleaning up oil spills the same way) for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),
Off the coastline of Sri Lanka, where a burning cargo ship has been spilling toxic chemicals and plastic pellets over the past two weeks, the government is preparing for the next possible stage of the disaster: As the ship sinks, it may also spill some of the hundreds of tons of oil in its fuel tanks.
The government is readying oil dispersants, booms, and oil skimmers, all tools that were used in the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. They didn’t work perfectly then—more than 1,000 miles of shoreline were polluted—and more than a decade later, they’re still commonly used. But solutions that might work better are under development, including reusable sponges that can suck up oil both on the surface and underwater.
Dispersants, one common tool now, are chemicals designed to break up the oil into tiny droplets so that, in theory, microorganisms in the water can break down the oil more easily. But at least one study found that dispersant could harm those organisms. Deep-sea coral also appears to suffer more from the mix of dispersant and oil than oil alone. Booms are designed to contain oil on the surface so it can be scraped off with a skimmer, but that only works if the water’s relatively calm, and it doesn’t deal with oil below the surface. The oil on the surface can also be burned, but it creates a plume of thick black smoke. “That does get rid of the oil from the water, but then it turns a water pollution problem into an air pollution problem,” says Seth Darling, a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory who developed an alternative called the Oleo Sponge [emphasis mine].
… a team from two German universities that developed a system of wood chips that can be dropped in the water to collect oil even in rough weather, when current tools don’t work well. The system is ready for deployment if a spill happens in the Baltic Sea. Another earlier-stage solution proposes using a robot to detect and capture oil.
I’m glad to see at least one new oil spill cleanup technology being readied for deployment in Peters’ June 4, 2021 article, we should be preparing for more spills as the Arctic melts and plans are made to develop new shipping routes.
Amongst other oil spill cleanup technologies, Peters mentions the ‘Oleo Sponge’, which was featured here in a March 30, 2017 posting when researchers were looking for investors to commercialize the product. According to Peters the oleo sponge hasn’t yet made it to market; it’s a fate many of these technologies are destined to meet. Meanwhile, scientists continue to develop new methods and techniques for mopping up oil spills as safely as possible. For example, there’s an oil spill sucking robot mentioned in my October 30, 2020 posting, which features yet another article by Peters.
In the summer of 2020 there were two major oil spills, one in the Russian Arctic and one in an ecologically sensitive area near Mauritius. For more about those events, there’s an August 14, 2020 posting, which starts with news of an oil spill technology featuring dog fur and then focuses primarily on the oil spill in the Russian Arctic with a brief mention of the spill near Mauritius in June 2020 (scroll down to the ‘Exceptionally warm weather’ subhead and see the paragraph above it for the mention and a link to a story).