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Grooved Disk Spinner Cleans Up: $1M For Winner of Oil Recovery Challenge 54

Posted by timothy
from the suck-it-up-losers dept.
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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Grooved Disk Spinner Cleans Up: $1M For Winner of Oil Recovery Challenge

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  • 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?

    • Can't sell the oil if it's broken down.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by realityimpaired (1668397) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @09:53AM (#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.

      • by Solandri (704621)

        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 o

        • by sjames (1099)

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

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

      • by operagost (62405)
        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 (Score:4, Informative)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @11:00AM (#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.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        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.

    • by sjames (1099)

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

  • I'd hate to hear that disk when it skips.
  • I want to see this grooved disc skimmer

  • by JumboMessiah (316083) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @10:07AM (#37701148)

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

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.

    • 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]
  • Kevin Costner? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grizzley9 (1407005) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @10:14AM (#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]
    • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 13, 2011 @10:30AM (#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

    • 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 precedi

    • by necro81 (917438) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @11:18AM (#37702036) Journal

      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.

    • 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 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by afidel (530433) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @10:49AM (#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.
    • 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.

      • by afidel (530433)
        Varying standards requires forethought which is an even bigger stretch for government than flexibility.
        • 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.

    • 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.
  • 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"?

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

    • by aug24 (38229)

      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.

  • by elmartinos (228710) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @01:15PM (#37703598) Homepage

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

  • 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 !!!!!

  • 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.

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