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Cleaning Oil Spills with Abundant Earth Magnet

Oiled Bird at Black Sea oil spill Image: Wikipedia
Oiled Bird at Black Sea oil spill
Image: Wikipedia

For decades, oil spills have devastated our marine ecosystem.  On the record, there have been about 13 large-scale oil spills all over the globe, for the past 37 years.

Deep Water Horizon and the Exxon Valdez oil spills are the recent big ones and they both summed up about 221 million gallons of oil released to the environment.

The impact of these spills to wild life and to the marine environment is both short and long-term.

Although a couple of controls have been employed on these spills over the years, the methods used were less effective, underwhelmed and lacked advancement, as cited by Ponisserel Somasundaran, Environmental Engineer from Columbia University.

One method to mention is the boom technique, where plastic or fabric barriers contained the spills. This is a somehow less efficient way of doing it, since oil could slip through the contraption on windy or turbulent seas.

Another method was mixing oil with dispersant and emulsifying the oil to smaller units for natural decomposition. Yet, instead of solving the mess, the toxicity of the resulting compound even worsened the adverse effects to the environment than the spill whould have without it, according to Motherboard.

A physicist in Fermilab, Arden Warner, has somehow managed to come up with a brilliant solution, one that does not involve chemical agents.  The method is so simple and non-destructive way of collecting oil spills and uses abundant and naturally occurring earth minerals – Magnetite.

Magnetite Image:Wikipedia

Though oil is non-magnetic, adding powdered magnets, they were able to get them attracted in clumps as magnets adhered to the sticky mess.  In turn, the magnetites carried the oil, cleaning the spill in a way that was so simple and yet so effective.

More to this, the collected solution of magnetite and oil could be easily separated by flotation and by magnetizing the bottom of the container, allowing the oil to be stocked for later processing and reuse the magnetite repeatedly.

Demonstration of collection of oil and magnetite with magnet Image: Motherboard
Demonstration of oil collection with magnetite and a magnet
Image: Motherboard

Arden is now developing a patent that would eventually make this type of technology come out on the market.

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