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Grooved Disk Spinner Cleans Up: $1M For Winner of Oil Recovery Challenge

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the suck-it-up-losers dept.

Earth 54

cylonlover writes "Last July, in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the X PRIZE Foundation launched the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE. As with previous X PRIZE competitions, this one was intended to encourage private sector scientific research, by offering a cash prize to whichever team could best meet a given challenge. In this case, teams had to demonstrate a system of their own making, that could recover oil from a sea water surface at the highest Oil Recovery Rate (ORR) above 2,500 US gallons (9,463.5 liters) per minute, with an Oil Recovery Efficiency (ORE) of greater than 70 percent. Today, the winning teams were announced with the US$1 million first prize going to Team Elastec/American Marine for their unique grooved disc skimmer."

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A good start (2)

Maquis196 (535256) | about 3 years ago | (#37700942)

I'm all for oil recovery from spills I really am. However I do wonder if recovery is the most efficient way of cleaning up a spill compared to breaking down the oil?

Anyone with knowledge able to confirm if recovery is the best course for cleanup?

Re:A good start (2)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 3 years ago | (#37700960)

Can't sell the oil if it's broken down.

Re:A good start (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37701008)

Better to use/sell it than store it in drums or bury it in a landfill.

Re:A good start (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37701018)

Well, sure, you break it down from oil, but what is it broken into?
What breaks those down and into what(and so on). What are the ramifications of the bacteria we use on other parts of the ecosystem.

I don't know, but it may actually be better to scoop it all up.

Re:A good start (4, Insightful)

realityimpaired (1668397) | about 3 years ago | (#37701030)

As a general rule, I'd say that cleaning up at least part of the spilled oil before breaking it up would always be better. I say that as an environmentalist, not as a scientist (my studies were in a different field), but I would think that leaving less released toxins in the environment would usually be the better choice. :)

They aren't talking about this replacing breaking down the oil, they're talking about it as a way to reduce the amount of oil that needs to be broken down, as well as the amount of chemicals that need to be released in order to break it down.

I'd also say that this invention is worth a hell of a lot more than $1m to the industry.

Re:A good start (2)

Solandri (704621) | about 3 years ago | (#37703580)

As a general rule, I'd say that cleaning up at least part of the spilled oil before breaking it up would always be better. I say that as an environmentalist, not as a scientist (my studies were in a different field), but I would think that leaving less released toxins in the environment would usually be the better choice. :)

The problem with that rule is that the toxicity is proportional to concentration. The ocean ecosystem has the ability to naturally break down crude oil. Natural oil seeps in the Gulf of Mexico are estimated to release about as much oil as the BP spill every year. It's just that the seeps are scattered and have a much lower flowrate, so the oil is much less concentrated, and the ecosystem is much better able to cope with it. That was the point of using dispersants (aka soap, for all you folks who are upset about releasing "chemicals" into the ocean): To prevent the oil from building up on the 2-dimensional surface and especially the 1-dimensional shorelines, and distributing it more evenly within the 3-dimensional ocean where it has a much lower concentration. That's the reason oil is still found along parts of the shoreline in Alaska more than 2 decades after the Vadez spill - once it reaches the 1-dimensional shoreline, it's highly concentrated (very small surface area per volume of oil), meaning it takes decades for bacteria to break it down naturally.

In other words, the impact of an oil spill and the duration of contamination is greatly multiplied by oil's tendency to float on the surface, and multiplied even more by its tendency to build up on shorelines. If you can cause it to remain mixed in the water, the overall impact of the spill isn't much greater than that from natural seeps. Of course there's a stronger local impact (anoxic plumes underwater as bacteria break down the oil), but these decisions have to be made by comparing the possible solutions to each other, not by comparing a solution to the pristine state if there were no spill.

So a decision about dispersing vs. collecting has to be made taking into account both the efficacy of collection and the exaggerated impact of allowing oil to reach the surface and shorelines. If dispersing can cause 90% of the oil to be consumed by bacteria within a year with none left after 5 years; then it is a superior solution to collecting 50% of it from the surface, 20% evaporating, while the remaining 30% coats the shorelines with 20% remaining after a year, and 5% left after 10 years. (Numbers made up for illustration. I have no idea what the actual rates are.)

Re:A good start (1)

sjames (1099) | about 3 years ago | (#37705152)

That depends on the toxicity of the soap. If the wrong hydrophobic molecules are emulsified by a soap, cells die.

Re:A good start (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37705548)

So long as corporations are protected from any expectation to deal with the consequences of their actions, these inventions will not be worth anything to the industry. The moment preferential legislation, subsidies and favoritism in oil contract assignment are abolished, then they will care because their existence would depend on it. Right now companies like BP are shielded from competition(I suppose they do compete in the acquisition of political privilege) and are only slightly inconvenienced by the fines they are required to pay, which goes to the government anyway to be allocated however it sees fit.

In a peaceful voluntary market environment, you may be quite right. However, the energy market we have today isn't much of an actual market at all.

Re:A good start (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | about 3 years ago | (#37715440)

So how does it feel to be an uninformed troll? BP paid for the spill in numerous ways, above and beyond what any US company that has spilled has paid, such as the Exxon Valdez spill. Who do you think paid for all the work on sealing the well head? Who do you think paid for the cleanup efforts?

Re:A good start (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | about 3 years ago | (#37701056)

It may not be more efficient but it is certainly better for the ecosystem.

Re:A good start (1)

operagost (62405) | about 3 years ago | (#37702358)

How is this certain? There's no reason oil can't be broken down into safer substances; in fact, enzymes do this. And imagine one of these oil collection devices churning its way through YOUR environment: do you not think that might be a bit disruptive?

Re:A good start (3, Informative)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 3 years ago | (#37701826)

The problem with breaking it down is going to be that any efficient process to do so is going to de-oxygenate the water. In fact, most of the oil is would be naturally broken down by bacteria in relatively short order (leaving behind some of the heavier byproducts unfortunately) but the dead spot it creates can take a very long time to recover.

Re:A good start (2)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 3 years ago | (#37703374)

Have you ever been to a beach that's had an oil spill offshore?
After any decent sized storm, balls of tar end up on the beach.

http://www.pnj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011111010008 [pnj.com]

"BP is taking its heavy equipment back to Pensacola Beach today to remove a concentration of tar patties buried in the sand near Portofino Resort."

That was 3 days ago and once you start finding tar balls/patties/sheets, they show up more or less forever.
Why? Because the majority of oil does not get broken down, it sinks and waits to blow up on your shoreline.

Re:A good start (1)

sjames (1099) | about 3 years ago | (#37705092)

The best way to get trash picked up is to somehow give it commercial value.

I'd hate to hear that (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 3 years ago | (#37700944)

I'd hate to hear that disk when it skips.

too bad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37700980)

too bad most of the oil isn't actually on the surface, eh?

Pictures? (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 3 years ago | (#37700994)

I want to see this grooved disc skimmer

Re: (4, Informative)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 3 years ago | (#37701250)

There's an illustration in TFA (it's the blue thing, next to the boat). You could also follow the link in TFA to the manufacturer's website, where there's a page [elastec.com] devoted to this technology. There are photo [elastec.com] and video [elastec.com] galleries linked from there.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37702126)

The X PRIZE website has competition videos for each of the teams. The video for Elastec includes a tabletop demo of a single disk. The final design had several rows of these disks.

Re: (4, Informative)

DiabolicallyRandom (2449482) | about 3 years ago | (#37702424)

Wrong - while the linked website does contain pictures, the gallery(s) linked are for their prior existing technology, not this new DISC skimmer (you linked to the drum skimmers of old) The new stuff can be found here: http://www.elastec.com/xprize/index.php [elastec.com]

Re: (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 3 years ago | (#37702896)

Thank you!

Website (2)

JumboMessiah (316083) | about 3 years ago | (#37701148)

Very little mention of the actual product. Here's the image gallery [elastec.com] for, what I assume, are the skimmer.

Re:Website (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37701318)

Very little mention of the actual product. Here's the image gallery [elastec.com] for, what I assume, are the skimmer.

Assuming the above is correct, here is a link to a paper [elastec.com] describing the process.

Re:Website (2)

DiabolicallyRandom (2449482) | about 3 years ago | (#37702440)

While the linked website does contain pictures, the gallery(s) linked are for their prior existing technology, not this new DISC skimmer The new stuff can be found here: http://www.elastec.com/xprize/index.php [elastec.com]

Video and Pictures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37701158)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/oil-spill-clean-up-x-challenge_n_1005606.html

Kevin Costner? (4, Interesting)

Grizzley9 (1407005) | about 3 years ago | (#37701230)

What ever came of those oil cleaners that Kevin Costner's company supposedly had. I saw articles and remember about BP buying a few and using them but nothing after that. Were they effective? Better than the article winner? Just a PR move for BP? It says BP wanted about 32 and even had some set sail in July 2010 but after that all I see is a Slashdot article discussing it http://news.slashdot.org/story/10/07/18/2035238/ieee-looks-at-kevin-costners-oil-cleanup-machines [slashdot.org]

The only thing I could find close to a follow up in the popular press was from this July reviewing how well it worked and some of the failures (clogging with "peanut butter type" oil and such) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jul/12/bp-kevin-costner-deepwater-horizon-spill [guardian.co.uk]

Re: (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 3 years ago | (#37701678)

I was wondering the same thing. I've skimmed a couple of articles about Costner's machine, and compared with the list of teams [iprizecleanoceans.org] for this X-prize, but I don't see an obvious match. If his machine wasn't in this competition, one has to wonder why.

The name of his company is Ocean Therapy Solutions [wikipedia.org] , and apparently they're involved in a lawsuit at the moment, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37703288)

The lawsuit is about Costner apparently lying to them about BPs interest, then using the money from BP to buy out their shares before BP announced. Nothing to do with the efficacy of the machines themselves.

Re: (1)

pkinetics (549289) | about 3 years ago | (#37707002)

So what were hearing is that the rich want to get rich by screwing the little guy?

Someone needs to send the Occupy Wall Street people to Costner's home.

Re:Kevin Costner? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37706926)

As a technical adviser on the BP spill I know the Costner promoted technology was:
a. Nothing new. It was an oil water separator that has been used on ocean going vessels for years.
b. It had no technology for feeding material to the separator. Only a hose sticking in the slick
c. The company "CINC" was owned or had a relative of his as a major stockholder. KC was only for the PR. The system was nothing special, and was certainly not even remotely close to a panacea for spilled oil recovery.

US regulations prevent this from being used (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37701446)

US regulations require that any water dumped back into Sea is almost completely clean (10 parts of oil per million)
EU regulation requires oil cleaners to output water that is cleaner than they took in and must be atleast 90 water.
As a result the EU emergency response fleet (that is on standby at all times and was easily capable of containing the horizon spil) was not allowed to assist.

The problem with the horizon was one of defective government not technology. No X prize is going to improve that

Re:US regulations prevent this from being used (2)

FrootLoops (1817694) | about 3 years ago | (#37701840)

Citations please?

US and EU regulations are somewhat close to what you said. The US regs actually vary their PPM requirement with the water's salinity, though the average is about 10 ppm, which is extremely low. Japan's requirements are (approximately) 100ppm, for instance. The EU regs do only require 90% non-oil (so sand, water, chlorofluorohexane, what-have-you), however the EU "emergency response fleet" is only half a dozen ships and would barely have made a dent in this particular spill.

Note: the preceding paragraph was completely made up.

Re:US regulations prevent this from being used (3, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | about 3 years ago | (#37702036)

The problem with the horizon was one of defective government not technology. No X prize is going to improve that

I'd say that, in the process of damning the government, you have glossed over a couple of points:

  1. * BP and Halliburton, between their greed, speed, hubris, laziness, and incompetence, drilled a dangerous and defective well
  2. * The US oil industry's ability to properly assess risk and prepare for and react to disaster is practically zero. [and yet were the US to, say, mandate a ready fleet of cleanup vessels, as the EU does, the same ones carping about the government response would also carp on about overbearing government regulation]
  3. * Despite the world being thrown at it from both government and industry, the Macondo well spewed for months
  4. * Even if the EU cleanup teams were allowed to assist, there was still 5 million barrels of crude released, which dispersed over tens of thousands of square kilometers.

So, yes, overly tight regulations may have made perfect the enemy of good, but those were not the proximate cause of the disaster.

Re:US regulations prevent this from being used (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37716580)

He wasn't arguing over the cause, rather the problems with clean-up.

Re:US regulations prevent this from being used (1)

randall77 (1069956) | about 3 years ago | (#37704330)

If you're picking up 70% oil, being able to dump the 30% water back into the ocean isn't going to make a big difference. All you need is a slightly larger tanker to hold the mix. And I'm pretty sure the tanker capacity of the oil industry isn't the limiting factor...

Target ORR (3, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | about 3 years ago | (#37701698)

Isn't the target ORR for the competition too low? I thought one of the biggest hurdles encountered during the cleanup was that the it was illegal for the ships to discharge partially treated water even if they had removed a significant percentage of the oil and so the only legal solution was to tanker the partially treated water and take it to a land based facility which could more thoroughly separate it. Personally I think the EPA (or whatever the responsible enforcement authority was) should have temporarily suspended the rules but that makes too much sense for the government.

Re:Target ORR (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 3 years ago | (#37702088)

Actually, a better solution is to have standards that vary depending on the need. Leaving all the oil in the water is worse than putting back water that has removed 90% of the oil. In this case, declare it a "disaster" and allow any and all cleanup technology that reaches 90% oil reduction to dump the water back into the ocean.

Anything else is just cutting off one's nose to spite their face.

Re:Target ORR (1)

afidel (530433) | about 3 years ago | (#37703812)

Varying standards requires forethought which is an even bigger stretch for government than flexibility.

Re:Target ORR (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 3 years ago | (#37708930)

Varying standards requires forethought which is an even bigger stretch for government than flexibility.

Please, our legislators are made of a finer strain of human than we mere citizens.

Re:Target ORR (1)

randall77 (1069956) | about 3 years ago | (#37704240)

I think you meant the ORE (oil recovery efficiency), not the ORR (oil recovery rate). An ORE of 70% doesn't seem bad to me, that means that 30% of your tank capacity is wasted because you can't dump the water back into the ocean. You have to take it to a shore treatment center (where you would have to take the oil anyway). I would imagine that tank capacity isn't the limiting factor, oil companies have lots of tankers. I'd agree with the competition organizers that ORR is much more important.

A RECORD PLAYER? (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 3 years ago | (#37701802)

Let me get this straight a record player (Grooved disk spinner = record player), is going to clean up oil from water?

What's next, a horse and buggy will be used to cure cancer?

Does the pattern of the grooves affect efficiency? Will "Twist and Shout" beat "Under the Sea"?

Does it have chance (1)

hey (83763) | about 3 years ago | (#37702586)

against zillions of millions of barrels of oil in rolling heavy seas.

Re:Does it have chance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37704354)

About the same chance that in the zillions of millions of cars that you drive along with, might ram into you and cause your fiery death...oh no...you should stop driving and go bury yourself in a hole. Get out while you can. Run!!!

Re:Does it have chance (1)

aug24 (38229) | about 3 years ago | (#37711836)

According to the back of this envelope:
660000 oil barrels spilt = 104931615 litres
At 17500 l/m = 5996 minutes.
At 24 * 60 min/day = 4.16 days.

So just one of these collectors could have hoovered up the entire spill in well under a week in perfect conditions. Even 10% of efficiency is still only six weeks. Even 10% efficiency and only working in daylight is still only three months.

Video of the disk spinner in action (2)

elmartinos (228710) | about 3 years ago | (#37703598)

Wadsworth's constant applies.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEoDGzBcxoI [youtube.com]

First deployment in NZ needed now (1)

fredm8 (33973) | about 3 years ago | (#37705660)

Great news that the world has an effective working oil retreival device. Now can you send the first batch of product to New Zealand to remove the oil being spilt from the Rena. Please !!!!!

Quick! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37705968)

Can we get one of these to New Zealand.... stat! Check the news here [stuff.co.nz]

Swimming pool equivalents (1)

Alain Williams (2972) | about 3 years ago | (#37706558)

In case anyone else has a problem understanding what 2,500 US gallons per minute is, an Olympic sized swimming pool [wikipedia.org] holds some 660,000 US gallons. So this system would have to process that volume of water in 264 minutes or about 4 1/2 hours.

Re:Swimming pool equivalents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37710314)

In case anyone else has a problem understanding what 2,500 US gallons per minute is, an Olympic sized swimming pool [wikipedia.org] holds some 660,000 US gallons. So this system would have to process that volume of water in 264 minutes or about 4 1/2 hours.

Except.... I believe the contest was to RECOVER 2,500 gallons of mostly oil per minute not process that much water. Big difference in goals. "...we greatly exceeded the recovery requirements of 2,500 gpm with 70% efficiency. Our new Grooved Disc Skimmer was able to recover 4,670 gpm with 89.5% efficiency, more than 3 times the industry's previous best oil recovery rate tested in controlled conditions."

Send it to (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37707540)

Tauranga!

Re:Send it to (1)

Julz (9310) | about 3 years ago | (#37709252)

Yes great now perhaps it can be applied to, as the above poster hinted at, the container ship, MV Rena, that parked itself on top of one of NZ's well known reefs. Birthday party or not, it should not have happened. This X-prize would be best served by putting it into immediate action over here in NZ, what used to be an innovation hub in the world.

And as a final rant over the stalling due to supposed corporate greed...Money might not grow on trees but if you can apply this innovation and the other one "We Finally Know Why Oil and Water Don't Mix [slashdot.org] " then perhaps this clude oil could actually be put to good use and converted to something of more use like say methane if you added some hydroxide (Old chemistry 101 but I think that's right?).

better end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37712128)

When will we stop using oil as the central motor of our economy? Shame on us stupids humans!

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