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  • Oil spills suck.

  • Some of them gush millions of barrels worth of oil into the ocean.

  • How do you even clean up a mess like that?

  • Hey guys, Julia here for DNews

  • On April 20th 2010 an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, spewing thousands of barrels

  • of oil into the coastal waters a day.

  • The pipe was finally capped 87 days later.

  • 5 years later, 2-16 percent, or possibly more, of the oil still lays on the ocean floor.

  • Scientists are still assessing the damage to ecosystems and the people who live there.

  • So how do spills like that get cleaned up?

  • What happens to the all that oil?

  • The first step, contain the spill.

  • Oil is insoluble so it doesn't mix with water.

  • Instead it floats on top in a layer just a few centimeters thick.

  • Temporary floating barriers called booms corral the oil.

  • Above the surface the barriers look like a string of floating body pillows, circling

  • the oil.

  • Below the surface they have a littleskirtof material that extends a few feet to catch

  • any oil below.

  • Once the oil's rounded up, it can be scooped up with skimmers, kind of like what you might

  • use to get bugs out of a pool.

  • If that doesn't work so well, dispersants, or chemical emulsifiers can be sprayed.

  • Some dispersants contain surfactants, the stuff that makes detergents

  • clean your clothes.

  • They break up the oil and other dirt because their molecules have opposite ends.

  • One end is hydrophilic, mean it likes water and the other is oleophilic, meaning it likes

  • oil.

  • These break up the surface tension that stops water and oil from mixing.

  • By breaking up the oil, it makes the oil disperse more easily into the water.

  • Which could keep the oil from reaching the shoreline and damaging fragile wetland ecosystems.

  • But some research shows that dispersants are toxic to coral, so maybe dispersants aren't

  • the best idea for every spill.

  • What other tools do we have?

  • Absorbents, like clay and straw soak up some of a spill but they also soak up a lot of

  • water.

  • So they're not ideal.

  • Fortunately, science is on the case!

  • Researchers from a Swiss materials research institute called Empa have developed a kind

  • of sponge made of chemically modified wood, called

  • Nanofibrillated Cellulose.

  • The material soaks up oil but leaves water behind, and in lab tests they're said to

  • have absorbed up to 50 times their own weight of oil.

  • Another really cool engineered sponge was recently created by Ohio State University

  • scientists.

  • The nature-inspired technology is described in a paper published in the journal Scientific

  • Reports.

  • Inspired by lotus leaves, the stainless steel mesh is coated with silica to create a bumpy

  • exterior.

  • On top of that bumpy layer is another layer of surfactant.

  • And finally it's sealed with a polymer coating that repels water.

  • One of the researchers says that a combination of these layers makes for nano-particles that

  • bind to oil.

  • They're hoping the mesh could one day be used like a giant spongesoaking up a nasty

  • oil spill.

  • Both of these technologies are still in the early development phase though, so it may

  • be a while before they're put to use in real disasters.

  • As for the oil that washes up on shore, Sometimes nature can take over, sometimes with a little

  • help.

  • Biological agents like, enzymes or microorganisms, can be added to help speed up the biodegradation

  • process.

  • According to the EPA this can either involvebioaugmentation, where bacteria is added

  • to the spill site to help biodegrate the oil or

  • biostimulation, where nutrients are added to already present oil degraders to stimulate

  • growth.

  • So while oil spills can be pretty nasty, scientists are always looking for new and better solutions

  • to cleaning them up.

  • Another solution might be more environmentally friendly cars!

  • Speaking of, the new Toyota Mirai is looking to the future with sustainability in mind;

  • fueled by hydrogen and leaving zero emissions behind.

  • To learn more how we get oil out of the ground, check out this great video from Trace, where

  • he explains where all our oil comes from.

Oil spills suck.

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B1 US oil spill water layer surface mesh

How Do We Clean Up Oil Spills?

  • 11 1
    joey joey posted on 2021/04/16
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