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Earth Science

Cloth Successfully Separates Oil From Gulf Water 327

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 GarryFre ( 886347 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @02:45PM (#32500070) Homepage
    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.
  • 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: []

  • 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 gearloos ( 816828 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:00PM (#32500322)
    Di Gao's brother in law Di Kotexa claims to have had his lab broken into and secret papers from his greatest achievement stolen.
  • Good point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Benfea ( 1365845 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:06PM (#32500410)
    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?
  • by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:09PM (#32500452) Journal

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:09PM (#32500458)

    Osorb by does pretty much exactly what you describe, except you don't squeeze it, you heat it to remove collected material. It's also fairly cheap/easy to produce.

  • 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.

  • by wonkavader ( 605434 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @03:28PM (#32500736)

    Actually, some sort of pumping system with this as part of a centrifuge should work well. The pipe goes into a spinning section of rigid membrane pipe. The oil gets spinning in the pipe. Water spins out, since it passes through the membrane, and oil stays in the pipe. The oil keeps going wherever it's being pumped to. This solves several problems, such as waiting for the water to slowly sink out, the cranes and manual labor involved in lifting and draining, etc.

    That is, if there are pumps that work well with oily water... There must be, right?

  • 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... :( )

  • 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.

  • by bomek ( 63323 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @04:27PM (#32501550) Homepage

    This technology seem to be a ripoff of that canadian invention: []

  • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @04:33PM (#32501646)

    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

    [citation needed...]

    This ought to be good...

  • by drachenstern ( 160456 ) <> on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @04:55PM (#32501988) Journal

    As someone else mentioned below,

    a) it takes days to make chemicals, especially when a small lab can whip some up for a demo in days...

    b) it takes days to make hundreds of thousands of square yards of cloth

    c) it takes apparently a month for BP to get serious about saving the Gulf with any kind of straight face

    d) yes, there are no existing stockpiles of this cloth, nobody needed it before now, and had rig management listened to the crews on the rig and designers back home and had they followed safety protocol, none of this would have happened, as evidenced by the testimony that has come out so far.

    So, what were you saying? None exists "right now" in quantity? Could we have some tomorrow? Will the oil still be causing a problem tomorrow? Could this save most of Florida from having the same problems as LA? How is it too late to start saving the coast? Because we can't save all of it?

    I think you're too worried about the damage that has been done, and not looking to contain the further damage that will be done. I'm furious about both, but only one can be prevented, the other must be saved. This won't save the damaged coast, it'll prevent more coast from being hit.

  • Re:Awesome (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @05:09PM (#32502194)

    Now how about we figure out a way to clean up the marshes that got fucked with an oil-slicked spiked baseball bat?
    I work for them, we're trying everything to get noticed, but it seems like the responses we get (less than 10%) are "Talk to BP". I don't know what kind of deal they've got going, but if they don't do something quick, all the wetlands in that area will be fucked.

    Blah blah, anything I say does not represent my employer blah blah
    but seriously, I love nature and hate what is happening here.

  • by SystemicPlural ( 1405625 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @05:13PM (#32502258)
    Wrong. They would be drilling in both.
  • by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @08:51PM (#32504850)

    Yeah, I was looking at that site when I was pondering the question myself, but as they say themselves - they have no long term survival rates.

    It's not that I don't want to see those creatures being put back in the wild. It's just that if they're going to die from after effects "immediately" after being released (i.e. if they get eaten, die of old age or regular stuff, it doesn't count), it's not only cruel to stress these animals by putting them through the cleaning procedure, it's also a huge waste of resources.

    They themselves say upwards of 300 gallons to clean 1 pelican. The average American uses 8,000 gallons a year. That's a LOT. And how clean is clean? Is it 'no more polluted than the average sea bird in areas unaffected by the spill' or is it 'we can't see any more oil on it', which might just be a cosmetic effect.

    And do they really need to clean ALL the animals they find? Why do they clean sea gulls? Sea gulls are plentiful and aren't even close to getting on the endangered list. Seems more humane and a better use of resources to euthanize them. Pelicans are close to being endangered, to there it might make sense to keep them alive.

    I realise that a lot of people feel better if we clean the animals and send them off, but unless we have data on their survival rates afterwards, it's essentially just like security theatre. Just a show being put on to make us feel good.

    Like when we're feeding ducks and other birds at the ponds and lakes. It feels good and gets us closer to nature. Never mind the fact that there's enough food in the pond for the ducks. Or were ... until we started polluting it with all the left over bread, leading to a huge bloom in algae growth and less food for the ducks. But the ducks keep coming back, because we feed them. So we get more and more ducks. Too many in that area, so now they end up raping and often times drowning the female ducks during mating season. But hey - we sure do feel good about feeding the birds, don't we?

    People are idiots.

  • by brentonboy ( 1067468 ) on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @10:28PM (#32505586) Homepage Journal

    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 [].

  • by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @11:00AM (#32510538)

    It's people like you that lead to lakes dying or even catching on fire. Just because we need a commodity doesn't mean the provider gets to bend us over a barrel and rape our environment. If oil companies didn't show such blatant disregard for the environment I would actually support drilling for oil in ANWR as I think it would stabilize a lot of political pressure in the middle east.

    I don't agree with the method AC used to reply I understand where that frustration comes from since no one seems to be doing anything to control the oil industry out of fear of reprisal. With corporate entities wielding such level of control something really does need to change like a nationalized drilling of ANWR. I don't really like that idea but it does seem better than giving the contract to BP who has twice shown what can be viewed as criminal negligence in four years or Shell who spills the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill every year. There aren't a lot of good options but I wouldn't rule out one of the much smaller oil companies that have a better track record.

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