Two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, restoration efforts are still under way. At the time of the accident, scientists struggled with how to contain oil in the gulf, which killed animal and plant life and took a terrible toll on many industries. Now, we may be better prepared to respond to such a disaster, thanks to a groundbreaking new material.
The details behind the innovation
Scientist have invented a new super-absorbent material that can soak-up 40 times its weight in oil and contain it. This allows for the clean-up of water, but also preserves the oil for harvesting. The absorbent material can be sent to an oil refinery, where the oil is extracted.
The new material – thermodegradable polyolefin oil super-absorbent – swells as it absorbs oil. Just one pound of the polymer can recover approximately five gallons of crude oil, which can be transported safely and easily with the gel’s high strength. This oil is then converted to a liquid and refined with the same process as basic crude oil. From an economic perspective, the device is highly valuable, since it increases the usability and thus, the profitability, of the oil through this conversion process. For example, the oil before conversion would be worth just $15, while crude oil sells at approximately $100 per barrel.
What this means for the planet
Profitability is one thing, but the primary goal and the most important result of this innovation is the environmental impact it will have on limiting the detrimental effects of oil spills all over the world. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion dumped more than 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico before engineers were able to cap the leak three months later. This spill affected more than the underwater ecosystem in the Gulf, but the lives of many individuals who relied on the body of water for a living, such as fishermen. Should another incident like this occur in the future, the damage could be easily avoided or remedied through the use of this new technology. The result would be a more harmonious unity between the natural world and industrial progress.
Keeping water cleaner
Water cleanliness is key to both the health of the planet and the health of the people and animals that inhabit it. Although environmental conservation efforts play a big role in the health of our water systems, there are several specific measures to take as individuals that can ensure better health. One easy and effective way to keep water cleaner is to install water filters that reduce contaminants in the water supply. And in many parts of the world where water scarcity has become a threat to human life and development, sophisticated, inexpensive technology is being used to provide access to clean water.
It’s unfortunate that disasters like oil spills often have to occur in order to encourage the development of new technologies. But it’s true that necessity is the mother of invention. The power of water-cleaning technology can have an incredible influence on the sustainability of the planet. And while the new super-absorbent polymer may provide peace of mind for now, it’s clear that we need to continue searching for alternative fuels that are cleaner – and easier to clean-up in the event of a disaster.