While Tony Hayward (the CEO of BP) heads off to enjoy a yacht race in England and President Obama is off enjoying yet another golf outing, the oil continues to flow out of the damaged well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately for those along the Gulf Coast, powerful minds are hard at work. Instead of pondering how to set a jib or which club to tee of with on the 17th hole, they are wondering if different chemicals, centrifuges, or new technology will help resolve the oil spill.
One idea being floated is using nanotechnology to tackle the problem. The University of Central Florida Research Foundation recently developed a process to use carbon filaments to break down surface oil and absorb it. This absorption process is similar to a nano-tube sponge developed by Chinese scientists. Not to be outdone, the University Pittsburgh has developed a liquid-resistant chemical nano-coating that, when applied to a cotton filter, will trap oil while allowing water to pass right through.
In addition to nanotechnology, there is a new breed of oil skimmers making their way towards the Gulf. One skimmer leaves the oil boom behind, relying on the motion of the machine to suck in the polluted water. The screening process by this machine is similar to the machine developed with the support of Kevin Costner, where it uses a large centrifuge to separate the water and the oil. Both machines make oil spill recovery possible and are more effective in open water where your classic boom is useless.
Not to be forgotten are the oil-dispersing agents that break up the surface tension of the slick as well as bacteria that “eats” the oil. With this disaster being attacked from multiple angles, it is possible that the long-term damage to the Gulf can be minimized. Unfortunately, it is taking longer than desired to have these options implemented, especially when you consider the size of the Gulf and the size of the spill. So while BP and the Federal Government continue to debate who is in charge of the clean up, it is likely that things will continue to get worse until third-party companies and organizations decide to take the oil spill clean up into their own hand.