A new technique using magnets to clean oil spills

Researchers have been working for years to find a new method to clean oil spills efficiently. MIT researchers have developed a new technique for magnetically separating oil and water that could be used to clean up oil spills. With this novel technique, the oil could be recovered for use, offsetting much of the cost of cleanup. Considering the environmental impact and financial cost —$40 million— of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, this new innovation is highly welcomed by environmentalist, the oil industry and the magnet industry.

On its own, oil is not magnetic, but MIT’s new technique would mix water-repellent ferrous nanoparticles—that contain iron—into the oil plume, and then utilize a magnet to simply lift the oil out of the water. The process would take place aboard an oil-recovery vessel, to prevent the nanoparticles from contaminating the environment. First seawater polluted with oil would be pumped onto a boat treatment facility. Once onboard, the magnetic nanoparticles would be added and attach themselves to the oil. The liquid would then be filtered with the magnets to separate the oil and water, with the water returned to the sea and the oil carried back to shore to an oil refinery. Finally, the nanoparticles could be magnetically removed from the oil and reused. This ability to recover and reuse the oil would offset much of the cost of cleanup, making companies like BP more willing to foot the bill for their mistakes.

Until now the two main methods used in oil spills have been using chemical dispersants, which break up the oil, and skimming, a technique whereby the oil is pulled off the surface of the water. Although there are drawbacks to both —chemical dispersants can have negative impacts on marine life and skimming can be hampered by bad weather — magnetic techniques may still find it difficult to gain acceptance. The use of tiny nanoparticles is seen by some as controversial. As well as being complex and difficult to use on a large-scale, there are concerns they could damage marine life, if accidentally released. However in comparison to the two conventional methods, the new technology has an outstanding advantage in that it can recover and reuse the oil, thus lessening the environmental damage and financial loss.

For more information about Stanford Magnets: http://www.stanfordmagnets.com/

Based in California, Stanford Magnets has been involved in the R&D and sales of licensed Rare-earth permanent magnets, Neodymium magnets, SmCo magnets, Ceramic magnets, Flexible magnets and magnetic assemblies since the 1980s. We supply all these types of magnets in a wide range of shapes, sizes and grades.


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