The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a tragic event, but some good has eventually come of it.
To get rid of the surface oil after the spill, engineers used over 400 controlled burns, which removed between 220 000 to 310 000 barrels of oil from the ocean’s surface. At the time it was the most effective way to get rid of the oil, but the burning had severe side effects. The fires were difficult to sustain for long periods, produces hazardous smoke and they left behind a tar-like substance that harmed the marine life.
Almost seven years later, scientists at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have developed a new method called the Flame Refluxer.
The Flame Refluxer basically accelerates the combustion of crude oil, which results in a faster burn and less harmful pollutants. It was tested on a specially designed tank, and it passed with flying colours. The scientists hoped to collect samples of the residue left over after the burn, but the process was so successful that there wasn’t much left to collect.
The Flame Refluxer consists of metal coils attached to a blanket made from copper wool sandwiched between two layers of copper mesh. The blanket is designed to be placed on top of floating oil that has been collected with a boom towed by boats.
After the oil is ignited, the coils and blanket transmit heat from the flames to superheat the oil, which increases its burning rate and efficiency. As a result, the oil burns more completely. The more complete combustion produces fewer airborne emissions, and any solid residue is captured by the copper wool and kept out of the water column.