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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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  • Awesome (Score:2, Funny)

    by Pojut (1027544)

    Now how about we figure out a way to clean up the marshes that got fucked with an oil-slicked spiked baseball bat?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Gothmolly (148874)

      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 Pojut (1027544)

        There are plenty of methods out there that work in open water. There are practically zero methods that work in marshland.

        Just sayin'.

  • by alfredos (1694270) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:27PM (#32499720)
    ...Unfortunately there will be a next time.
    • 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.
       

    • by blair1q (305137)

      There doesn't have to be.

      What happened here was the result of shoddy implementation of known technology to prevent the sort of surge that induced the explosion.

      After that, it became a tragedy of absent foresight in the technology of what to do if all you have is a pipe sticking out of the sea floor.

      There are a finite number of things involved, and they have a finite number of failure mechanisms, all of which can likely be controlled for. If you can prove they can't, rather than claiming it or just implying

  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:28PM (#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 pianoman113 (204449) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:41PM (#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 Pojut (1027544)

        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?

        There is more profit to be made in destruction than salvation.

        Now that I'm doing being an ass, I completely agree with you. If something like this does work as well as they say it is, there's no reason to not implement it into the cleanup strategy asap.

        • There is more profit to be made in destruction than salvation.

          More like it's easier to rape than to build. Not more profitable, just quicker and easier.

          Building something good takes time, effort, and know-how, but over the long-term it's much more profitable for everyone involved. The problem is that you have a bunch of MBAs with grand business theories (but who don't necessarily know what they're doing) trying to optimize profit for *this quarter*.

      • by schon (31600) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:11PM (#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!

      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        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?

        "Rather quickly" is a relative term. We're two months into a disaster that will still be spewing oil until at least August. The majority of the impact and cleanup will be complete by the time this cloth can be deployed in any reasonable amount.

        That said, did any military technology go from a prototype in the lab to large-scale deployment in Afghanistan in 2 months? If so, I'd be interested to learn about it. If not, then the military-industrial complex isn't the place you want to look for examples of q

    • by aplusjimages (939458) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:53PM (#32500210) Journal
      Clean up is going to take years, so there's time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      Worth pointing out that the safety valve that was supposed to prevent this thing, all the plans to stop the flow at the source, and all the dispersants being used to reduce the effects of the oil... all those had never been properly tested either. I think the safety valve had been tested at half the depth it was being used at? So if we make sure it's not going to do any -harm- then we're at least -improving-, even if we don't test efficiency first before we deploy it.

  • by Brett Buck (811747) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:30PM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      How do you clean and reuse your cloth? This guy: just pour the oil off the cloth and repeat. Yours only allows for a small amount to be collected before some kind of complicated rinse has to be done.
      • by Toonol (1057698)
        Squeeze?
        • by Abstrackt (609015)

          Squeeze?

          Try squeezing a wet towel, you won't get all the water out. Now imagine this towel absorbs oil instead of water; you'll have a hell of a time getting all the oil out.

          • by afidel (530433)
            It's actually a solved problem. My father works in industrial chemicals and tramp or waste oil leaking into coolant systems is a major problem, they already have continuous cloth systems that pull the oil out of the water and then squeeze it out. The problem is that they can only handle so many gallons per hour and so much concentration of oil.
        • You use a massive gill wheel or something similar on a oil vessel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Drawing_of_a_gill_netter.gif [wikipedia.org] . (The equipment does exist.) Then you put some type of collector below the gill net collector with tubing into the tanks. As the collector wheel brings more and more net/cloth in squeezing will take place and it will drop into the tanks. It will be a messy and probably dangerous job but this Gulf is a food source to a lot of people.
    • by dmatos (232892) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:35PM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Khashishi (775369)

        What does this mean for all the sea life that gets pulled into these trawling nets?

        • by badboy_tw2002 (524611) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:15PM (#32500538)

          Prepped and ready for deep frying?

        • by wonkavader (605434) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:20PM (#32500612)

          Here's a very unpleasant answer:

          Shrimp, fish, squid, etc -- If they were in the oily water, they were dead anyway. They "breath" by pulling that water through gills or similar arrangements. Such surfaces will be clogged with oil and the animals will die.

          Mammals and birds have a better chance, and it seems like a skimmer like this gets them into the boat and gives rescuers a chance to wash them. They're probably better off in the boat than out of it.

          • Mammals and birds have a better chance, and it seems like a skimmer like this gets them into the boat and gives rescuers a chance to wash them. They're probably better off in the boat than out of it.

            I'm not entirely sure - for two reasons:

            1) Nets are huge. If you get dragged into one, even one that floats on top, and more and more oil is dumped onto you, I think you're going to die unless you're the last thing to get dragged in
            2) I'm rather curious about the survival rate of birds, mammals, turtles etc., af

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by brentonboy (1067468)

              Mammals and birds have a better chance, and it seems like a skimmer like this gets them into the boat and gives rescuers a chance to wash them. They're probably better off in the boat than out of it.

              I'm not entirely sure - for two reasons:

              1) Nets are huge. If you get dragged into one, even one that floats on top, and more and more oil is dumped onto you, I think you're going to die unless you're the last thing to get dragged in
              2) I'm rather curious about the survival rate of birds, mammals, turtles etc., after they have been cleaned. It might look really nice, that you start with an oil covered pelican and end up with a shiny white and clean pelican, but if it dies a week after you set it free, because it's swallowed too much oil, infections or whatever, that doesn't bode well for the creature. Might be more humane to kill it instead of cleaning it off.

              Yeah, once the oil is on the birds, they'll likely die [spiegel.de].

          • by winomonkey (983062) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @06:49PM (#32503372)
            I am speaking as the son of a commercial fisherman who still typically takes some vacation time from the office life to work the black cod fishery here in Alaska, and as a person who has gone through the SERV's training to get my HAZWOPER Tier 1 certification (basically, taught how to do crude recovery on open water and near-shore operations). I have spent time both in the class and on the water drilling emergency response up here.

            One of the things discussed during our breaks was that the survival rate of rescued birds and mammals was somewhere around 10% during the Exxon disaster. That does not include all of the wildlife that was missed ... these were the lucky ones. Not to say that saving 10% of the recovered birds (at a very high individual cost) is a bad thing, mind you.

            Perhaps the best quote of the day on this topic basically boiled down to "pictures of people scrubbing ducks is just good PR."

            The whole process of what you described as "skimming" (which is very different in the recovery lingo - means using a floating pump system to recover oil, not dragging stuff through the water) would likely kill all animals that were captured. Critters would be submerged within a cloth net of oil and gunk. Regular trawling is damaging enough to them ... surface trawling with this would only make it that much worse. That said, it would be a great way to do animal body recovery, getting the toxin-laden animals out of the food system and away from the scavengers that would eat their remains.
        • by Danse (1026)

          What does this mean for all the sea life that gets pulled into these trawling nets?

          That they were probably pretty screwed to begin with? I guess you can just throw them back in.

        • by SnoopJeDi (859765)
          Since all that wildlife was stuck in the oil slick, there wasn't much hope to begin with, was there?
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          What does this mean for all the sea life that gets pulled into these trawling nets?

          Most of it is probably already dead.

      • Looks like we slagged the server again so I didn't RTFA - but if it really is a coating that can generically be applied to cotton cloth, then you could conceivably coat old clothes that would generally be dumped on the third world and toss them into a modified seining or trawling net, fill the cloth up with oil, drag it over to a tender with separation facilities (ie, a big drum with a press or similar), squeeze the oil out and process it and reuse the cloth.

        Something that could be tested industrially on
      • by blair1q (305137)

        Use a pump to bring oil and water onto the boat, and run it through a huge coiled tube of this stuff. The water can spill out the sides and the oil will exit the other end into the hold.

        The only question is whether the coating on the cloth is durable or needs to be replenished, and what kinds of pressures the cloth can take, and can it be knitted on existing looms.

    • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:35PM (#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 Bakkster (1529253)

        The summary mentions using it to protect wetlands. This is particularly preferable to using sand berms, as they change the salinity of the area (no more salt water coming from the sea) which can be deadly to the habitat. A barrier of this cloth around sensitive wetland habitats would protect the habitat from oil, while still allowing the water to be properly brackish. As you said, it's another tool beyond those on open water actually removing the oil from the water.

    • by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:37PM (#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.
      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        or rather, they could, if BP hadn't injected all those dispersants making it end up god-knows-where.

        Good point, might the dispersant defeat this technique? If it makes the oil dissolve in water, it may no longer be non-polar, and thus no longer repelled.

      • Good point (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Benfea (1365845)
        As has been noted by many before, coagulants would have been a better idea for cleanup, but dispersants proved to be more important to the task of making the oil slick look smaller in all those satellite photos. What's more important? Cleaning up this stuff, or reducing the PR damage to BP?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tristanreid (182859)

          When oil droplets are small enough, they're eaten by naturally-occuring bacteria. That's the main reason for dispersants.

          That's also the reason that naturally-occuring oil seeps don't pose a threat to wildlife, because in a seep the oil comes out slowly and spread out, rather than shooting out in a massive non-stop plume.

          I don't put it past BP to have the ulterior motive you're describing, but there's not enough evidence to convict on this particular charge (so to speak).

          -t.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Orange Crush (934731)
      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
    • It would make a great oil sponge, but you'd need to ring out the cloth every minute. But at least you'd have a method for pulling oil out of the water. Perhaps trolling long sheets of it, and ringing out the oil every time it's rolled in...

      When the cloth repels oil, the cloth stays porous, and water keeps passing through. You can literally herd the oil like catching fish. I'm not sure how salt and ocean debris would make the filter work in the real ocean The oleophobic cloth filter would plug up with ev

    • If you use the cloth as an oil-sponge, then the amount of oil you can pick up is limited by the absorbency of the cloth. Any excess oil will seep through the cloth and continue polluting the water. The practicality of just squeezing it out is also questionable, since you have to do it every time the cloth becomes oil-logged (which would be very quick).

      If instead it's an oil filter, then you can put as much oil-laden water through it as you want, with the oil remaining on one side, with the cloth absorbing

    • by ekimminau (775300)

      "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."

      Actually, letting water pass through but not letting oil stick would let you create a huge net. Water passes through but oil doesn't. Then you haul the net up, all the water drains away and you dump the oil into a containment hold. Non sticks to net. Rep

    • Instead of trying to push the oil around or filter it out of the water, the primary use of this cloth could be to stop more oil form leaking form the pipe. Simply wrap the pipe and damaged area in the cloth, and the oil won't be going anywhere, allowing for other clean-up measures to filter out the oil.

      • by Danse (1026)

        Instead of trying to push the oil around or filter it out of the water, the primary use of this cloth could be to stop more oil form leaking form the pipe. Simply wrap the pipe and damaged area in the cloth, and the oil won't be going anywhere, allowing for other clean-up measures to filter out the oil.

        Wrap it how? How would you deal with the immense pressure from the oil coming out of the pipe? Best I could see them doing with this would be to create a sort of tube of this stuff to funnel the oil up to tankers.

    • by Surt (22457)

      The water flows through, so you dip it into the water like it was a big bucket, or imagine a fish net designed to catch oil. You come away with nothing but oil inside your 'net'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Khashishi (775369)

      like, perhaps hair? [slashdot.org]

  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:33PM (#32499830)

    If it's fixed, we won't be able to get rich quick turning tarballs into, basically, gold! [sandman.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dward90 (1813520)
      Don't joke about the tarball burner. It's totally legit. It's even PATENTED [google.com].
    • There are not enough moderation options.

      I was looking for the, "WTF -Seriously?!" mod option and came up blank. "Interesting" doesn't cut it with items like the one you pointed out.

      -FL

  • Nothing new here (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tisha_AH (600987)

    I worked in the oil industry in the 80's and 90's (for Amoco coincidentally) and we had adsorbent spill control diapers and booms that we could run through a ringer to extract the oil. Every facility had a stockpile of these things.

    I took an oil spill control class in Pueblo Co one year and we trained on boom deployment, oil recovery and cleanup. This was one of the tools we had available to us.

    Now maybe the hype is that these new products are made of treated cotton (sounds nice and eco-friendly). Once anyt

  • A net? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by brianleb321 (1331523)
    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?
  • I didn't mention this before because I figured there was a problem with this but it occurred to me if they had a set of wide rollers they could attach rugs or such to a wide belt of some sort that could be attached to the front of a ship and the belt would rotate out into the water, collecting oil and pass through a couple rollers that would squeeze most of the oil out, and that part would pass back into the water to lap up more oil. The oil collected could then be processed and used. I figure I might as we
    • by Danse (1026)

      I didn't mention this before because I figured there was a problem with this but it occurred to me if they had a set of wide rollers they could attach rugs or such to a wide belt of some sort that could be attached to the front of a ship and the belt would rotate out into the water, collecting oil and pass through a couple rollers that would squeeze most of the oil out, and that part would pass back into the water to lap up more oil. The oil collected could then be processed and used. I figure I might as well mention it now, though I have doubts it would really work, but who knows. I don't.

      Lol. They'd have a bunch of belt-sander looking ships running around the gulf. I like it :)

  • Bigger? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by warchildx (1695278) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:46PM (#32500082)
    I wouldn't want to pour the entire gulf of mexico worth of water through that small glass jar. reminds me of those pur water filters, where you pour some water in, and have to wait for it to *seep* through the filter material before you can put more in.

    Maybe something more along the lines of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W8_GpMz9nI [youtube.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MartinSchou (1360093)

      No, the idea he has, is that the entire gulf of Mexico is filtered through a 30 cm^2 cloth, because, obviously, this process does not scale in any way, shape or form.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:49PM (#32500150)

    Then theoretically, any enterprising shrimp boat captain with this filter and a floating storage tank could sop up the stuff and sell it at spot price to a competitor of BP (Insert evil grin here).

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      Frankly, if anybody started doing it, nobody is going to give them a hard time about it.

      What, is BP going to say "hey wait, that's our oil - dump that back in the ocean where you found it!?"

      Unless the price is REALLY low I doubt it would pay off. This is crude oil, and it literally is pumped out of big holes in the ground normally. It will be hard for anybody skimming it off the ocean to be competitive. Indeed, they might burn more oil cruising around skimming it up. For this reason, I suspect that BP i

  • The problem is not in separating oil from water-- gravity already does that quite well, without the intervention of some special cloth.

    The problem is the dilution-- the stuff is spread over thousands of square miles.

    • Part of what makes the cleanup difficult is that there's enough churn in the water that the oil and water don't separate very well.

      If you pour oil and water into a glass, then yes, they'll separate. If you constantly shake that glass, then they won't separate very well.

  • by gearloos (816828)
    Di Gao's brother in law Di Kotexa claims to have had his lab broken into and secret papers from his greatest achievement stolen.
  • As good as this technique is, it can mostly be used at the edges, that is at beaches etc to get oil out of pools or ponds, not get oil out of the sea water. I wonder how hard would it be to use Solar energy to convert water into steam and separate it from oil. I know there is a big difference between the boiling points of oil and water.
    • That would take HUGELY more energy than just about any separation process. A phase change (liquid to gas) takes a lot of energy. Better to have a solar collector generating electricity to power the centrifuge to clean the water.

  • ShamWow! (Score:3, Funny)

    by jdfox (74524) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:16PM (#32500564)
    That is all.
  • Too fine to work (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bicx (1042846) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:23PM (#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.
  • Cleaner Water? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tomahawk (1343) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:30PM (#32500768) Homepage

    Was is just me, or does it appear that the water the came out was cleaner than the water be used (before mixing it with the oil)?

    Would this be a valid way of cleaning up other (non-oil) polluted water supplies?
    (repost - wasn't logged in... :( )

  • ... who gets the contract to build the ginormous coffee pot that this ginormous filter will fit into. Would you like that espresso?

  • Market solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by z4ce (67861) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @04:19PM (#32501464)

    I wonder why BP doesn't offer a bounty for the leaking oil. $500/bbl. My guess if you did that, you'd see an awful lot of creative ways to retrieve that oil.

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