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Earth Science

Cloth Successfully Separates Oil From Gulf Water 327

Posted by kdawson
from the now-to-try-it-on-cats-and-dogs dept.
Chinobi writes "Di Gao, an assistant professor at the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, has developed a method of separating oil from water within just seconds using a cotton cloth coated in a chemical polymer that makes it both hydrophilic (it bonds with the hydrogen atoms in water) and oleophobic (oil-repelling), making it absolutely perfect for blocking oil and letting water pass through. Gao tested his filter successfully on Gulf Oil water and oil and has an impressive video to demonstrate the results." This is a laboratory demonstration; the technology hasn't been tested at scale.

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Cloth Successfully Separates Oil From Gulf Water

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  • by alfredos (1694270) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:27PM (#32499720)
    ...Unfortunately there will be a next time.
  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:28PM (#32499740) Journal

    Doing it on a massive scale in the Gulf of Mexico is something else entirely.

    While this might prove useful in future spills, it would seem to me to be very unlikely that it could be brought up to scale fast enough to help with the current problem

  • by Brett Buck (811747) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:30PM (#32499772)

    I would think what you want for an oil cleanup is a material that is oleophilic but hydrophobic,IOW, just the opposite. Dip it in the water, oil sticks, pull it out, oil stays in, water rolls off. Squeeze the oil out into an appropriate receptacle, repeat.

  • by dmatos (232892) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:35PM (#32499858)

    You could potentially use big trawling nets of this stuff to sieve the oil out of the gulf, just like fishermen use trawling nets to sieve fish out of the water. Scoop up a big bucket of oil+water, wait for the water to drain out, then pour the oil into a reservoir on the boat. Repeat.

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:35PM (#32499866)

    I would think what you want for an oil cleanup is a material that is oleophilic but hydrophobic,IOW, just the opposite.

    It's probably the difference between having a mop (your proposal) and a strainer (his creation). Depending on a variety of factors either one might be preferable for cleanup.

  • by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:37PM (#32499902)
    With this (assuming it works at scale) you can "push" the oil to where you want it to go, meaning that if they deployed large ones on the surface they could gradually "herd" all the oil into one place to be siphoned off... or rather, they could, if BP hadn't injected all those dispersants making it end up god-knows-where.
  • Re:Awesome (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:38PM (#32499934)

    You're right - because someone came up with an elegant, no-moving-parts, no-training-needed design to clean the seawater, but it doesn't clean up the marshlands, it's useless.

  • by Orange Crush (934731) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:39PM (#32499958)
    But filtering is probably the behavior you want. Much of the gulf spill is a microns-thick rainbow-colored sheen on the surface of the water, and there's really no way to clean that up or burn it off beyond letting nature take its course. If you can run a bunch of supertankers around the oil slick Roomba style, they could pump large volumes of oil and seawater through filters like these, dump the clean water and hold on to the oil. If the filters work well enough, it might be possible to circle the whole slick and keep it confined away from shore.
  • A net? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by brianleb321 (1331523) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:40PM (#32499982)
    Is there a reason this wouldn't act like a giant net and trap life forms in what they intend to be pure crude oil?

    Won't somebody think of the childr... I mean, won't somebody think of the dolphins?
  • by pianoman113 (204449) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:41PM (#32499988) Homepage

    9 years ago, a great deal of military technology went from lab to massive scale rather quickly for new bombs to wreak havoc in cave strongholds. Why is BP or some other interested party with deep pockets unable to do the same here?

    We have an existing crisis and a potential solution. Somebody pony up the cash and start producing this. Its a risk, but if effective there is a great deal of profit to be made in the event of another oil spill.

    Calling any entrepreneurs...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:46PM (#32500094)

    Can we all agree that separating oil and water isn't all that difficult? I mean just the plastic tub he poured it in held a lot of the oil while letting the water pour out. Right now in my fridge I'm separating oil and water in my Good Seasons Italian Dressing Cruet (tm). The issue is doing it to the entire gulf of Mexico.

    When I see someone clean up a swimming pool in 1 second with a flick of their wrist, then I'll be impressed, but this... not so much.

  • by aplusjimages (939458) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:53PM (#32500210) Journal
    Clean up is going to take years, so there's time.
  • by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster.manNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @01:54PM (#32500224)

    according to TFS you coat a common cloth with a particular chemical... sounds ready made to me.

    Easily-made is not the same as already made. How many thousands (or millions?) of square feet do you think are needed? How long do you think it would take to make that much by hand? How long do you think it would take to retool a production line to start producing it?

    I can conceivably see this being deployed while we are still dealing with the aftermath, but it is definitely too late for most of the areas that really could have benefitted from this. It will be a token contribution for this spill, nothing significant.

  • by schon (31600) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:11PM (#32500472)

    a great deal of military technology went from lab to massive scale rather quickly for new bombs to wreak havoc in cave strongholds. Why is BP or some other interested party with deep pockets unable to do the same here?

    Because there's no money in cleaning it up, and a lot of expense.

    We have an existing crisis and a potential solution. Somebody pony up the cash and start producing this. Its a risk, but if effective there is a great deal of profit to be made in the event of another oil spill.

    Therein lies the problem. BP estimated the likelihood of the current spill as "so close to zero that it doesn't matter". Ask any oil company what the chances are of another spill, and you'll get "so close to zero that it doesn't matter." So why should they spend all this money on something that will never happen?

    Environmental issues are externalities - and it would be socialism to force companies to deal with externalities. After all, we're all responsible for the Gulf spill, because of our demand for oil. And anyway, if you tried to enact a law, they would just shut down and open up under a different name. Let the invisible market fairy handle this, she will make it all go away!

  • Too fine to work (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bicx (1042846) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:23PM (#32500662)
    It seems like this would be fine on a small scale, but pulling a large sheet of this stuff through moving ocean water would probably turn out to be extremely difficult. First, the tensile strength of the fabric would probably not be strong enough to withstand currents or other movement without a lot of bracing. Secondly, exposing it to a large quantity of oil would probably overwhelm the staining ability, causing the fabric to be "clogged," not only hampering the filtering properties but also increasing drag quite a bit.
  • by BlueStrat (756137) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:28PM (#32500726)

    The easy oil is gone, they're having to drill in 5000 feet of water now, so of course there will be a next time.

    No, the "easy" oil is there in nice, safe, relatively shallow water where leaks/spills etc would be comparatively trivial to deal with, but environmental interests have forced rigs further and further offshore in an attempt to effectively halt/limit offshore oil drilling by making it too expensive & difficult for the oil companies, while being able to claim they're not trying to stop offshore drilling, just being good stewards of the planet.

    So, rather than having a shallow-water rig where any leak or blowout can be swiftly, safely, and effectively dealt with, we have the current situation. I'm sure the wildlife that has and will die, along with the fishing and tourist industries, appreciates the intentions, just maybe not the outcome so much.

    Strat

  • by Sethumme (1313479) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:43PM (#32500974)
    That's the real issue. Why were there no robust contingency plans for an oil spill in place before off-shore drilling began? How were oil companies even given permission to drill before they demonstrated reliable containment and recovery plans with the necessary materials/products already stockpiled? The risk of spillage has always been a hot topic with offshore drilling. It's bullshit that solutions to the problem are only being worked on after the fact.
  • by pluther (647209) <pluther@u s a . net> on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @04:03PM (#32502112) Homepage

    Yay!!

    I knew somebody would figure out a way of making this the "liberals" fault!

    All hail the mighty Spin!

  • by Bemopolis (698691) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @04:28PM (#32502480)

    How were oil companies even given permission to drill before they demonstrated reliable containment and recovery plans with the necessary materials/products already stockpiled?

    I'm shocked too — especially considering the last administration was literally packed with members of the oil and gas industry! Hmmm, waitasec...

  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @04:34PM (#32502572)

    No, the "easy" oil is there in nice, safe, relatively shallow water where leaks/spills etc would be comparatively trivial to deal with, but environmental interests have forced rigs further and further offshore in an attempt to effectively halt/limit offshore oil drilling by making it too expensive & difficult for the oil companies, while being able to claim they're not trying to stop offshore drilling, just being good stewards of the planet.

    And what is the source of your information? From my friends in the oil industry, all the "easy" oil is gone. And by "easy" there are a number of different factors.

    Location is only factor. Extraction difficulty is another. Canada is sitting on the largest oil sands in the world at a possible of 1.7 trillion barrels. The problem is all that oil is suspended in sandy soil. The cost of separating the oil from the sands is very expensive. The other downside is extracting this oil requires destroying the land.

    Another factor are impurities once you get the liquid. Sulfur makes the oil "sour" and combines with water to make sulfuric acid corroding any equipment. Processing sour crude is more expensive than sweet crude. Unfortunately, all the sweet crude is gone. And that's just one impurity.

    One of my friends was working on a well that which had 30% H2S gas in the well. 30 years ago, they would have plugged that well and moved on but right now they have no choice.

    So, rather than having a shallow-water rig where any leak or blowout can be swiftly, safely, and effectively dealt with, we have the current situation. I'm sure the wildlife that has and will die, along with the fishing and tourist industries, appreciates the intentions, just maybe not the outcome so much.

    Please have a source for your outrage otherwise it would appear to be merely ravings.

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