UT-Designed Tech Could Revolutionize Oil Spill Cleanup

Researchers achieved over 99% oil-water separation

The tech separates oil from water so that the pulled oil can be reused (Provided by UT-Austin)

In an attempt to update the decades-old technology used to combat the extreme environmental toll of major oil spills, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have created a technology that could significantly improve cleanup capabilities.

The new technology cuts a weekslong effort down to a day or two. It uses a dual-layer mesh roller coupled with an induction heating technique, with material properties that allow it to separate oil from water and then remove that oil from the ocean at 10 times the rate of the current method.

The gel-coated mesh roller can selectively adhere oil at the interface of the cold seawater on the bottom side and separate viscous oil/water mixtures at the top side of the roller. Then, a device in between the two layers captures the now-separated oil.

In experiments, the researchers achieved over 99% oil-water separation efficiency, which means the collected oil could also be recycled and reused.

Guihua Yu, a UT engineering professor, was inspired to pursue this research by the Deepwater Horizon spill. The 2010 incident off the Gulf Coast was the largest U.S. oil spill in history, forever altering the ecosystem there.

This got Yu thinking about oil spill cleanup technology. He looked at commonly used cleanup methods, such as skimmers, and what he found was a major need for a modernized way to efficiently pull oil out of water much more effectively.

Up next, the researchers will focus on scaling the technology. They are open to working with industrial partners on scaling and field tests.

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