Scientists Improve Efficiency Of Oil-spill Cleanup Technology

Scientists with the the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, have been working on a major advancement in the technology for cleaning up oil spills on oceans, lakes and other waterways.

In a report scheduled for the Dec. 15 issue of the semi-monthly American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers Victoria Broje and Arturo A. Keller describe construction and field tests of an improved version of the mechanical skimmer, the mainstay device for recovering oil spilled on water.

Relatively unchanged for decades, the typical skimmer consists of a revolving steamroller-like drum that picks up a film of oil on the drum's surface. A scraper then removes the oil, which drops into a collector. Broje and Keller note that traditional skimmers are inefficient, work poorly with thin oils like light crude or diesel and can be expensive to use in cleaning up large spills.

The new mechanical skimmer, according to a Nov. 13 announcement by ACS, uses a grooved surface. With a larger surface area, the grooves scoop up more oil than the smooth-surfaced traditional skimmer. The scraper is machined to precisely match the groove geometry, removing almost 100 percent of the adhered oil with each rotation. The grooves also are coated with an improved oil-adhering polymer. Field tests show that the new skimmer is up to three times more efficient than traditional skimmers, the scientists report.

Additional information on the report, "Improved Mechanical Oil Spill Recovery Using an Optimized Geometry for the Skimmer Surface," can be accessed at http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/sample.cgi/esthag/asap/pdf/es061842m.pdf (PDF format) or at http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/sample.cgi/esthag/asap/html/es061842m.html.

Arturo A. Keller can be contacted at http://www2.bren.ucsb.edu/~keller.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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