Health News Digest

May 31, 2010

Is CleanMag Technology The Answer For Marine Oil Spills?

Oil Spill

By  Michael D. Shaw

Ever since BP’s offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later, all eyes have been on the Gulf coast. Experts say that this disaster has trumped 1989’s Exxon Valdez incident, and is now easily the worst oil spill in US history.

Both BP and the federal government have been criticized, and rightly so, for their less than effective response. Indeed, various columnists are mocking the EPA for doing little more than interfering with BP’s use of Corexit, a chemical dispersant.

Meanwhile, an interesting technology—already proven in the crowded shipping lanes of Europe—is quietly being introduced into the Gulf.

CleanMag, the name is derived from Cleaning Magnetically, is a porous granular material that is strongly oleophilic (having a strong affinity for oils), and is less dense than water even after adsorption of oil. As such, it will not sink. The material is impregnated with iron, making it magnetic. Notably, CleanMag can adsorb six to nine times its weight in oil.

In operation, CleanMag is dispersed over the oil spill area, and almost immediately, the adsorption begins. Within moments, a crust is formed, and the resulting mass can be removed with a magnetic force. What’s more, the material is said to be at least 70 times less toxic than conventional chemical dispersants, and both the trapped oil and CleanMag can be recycled.

Specifically, both the recovered crude oil and CleanMag can be separated and each used again. Or, the adsorbent/oil mix can be employed as a power generation fuel in its own right.

CleanMag has been subjected to various field tests, including an experimental oil spill conducted at the the Merchant Marine Academy of Aspropyrgos in Greece. 10 liters (2.6 US gallons) of crude oil were poured into an area of 100 square meters (1076 square feet) of sea surface, surrounded by booms. Full cleanup took only 30 minutes.

Subsequent testing of the treated seawater showed oil content to be 2-8 parts-per-billion, at least 1800 times better than the levels stipulated in Marpol 73/78. (“Marpol” is marine pollution, and Marpol 73/78 is a shorthand for International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978.)

CleanMag was invented by Professor George K Nicolaides, of the Technological Education Institute of Piraeus Greece, an expert in magnetic materials. Nicolaides was first inspired to develop a spill remediation technology after seeing TV broadcast footage of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

As to bringing CleanMag into the Gulf, credit that to AbissoCleanse, a Florida-based company already involved in Chinese drywall remediation. Jason Roach, CEO of AbissoCleanse, reports that they are in contact with local officials in charge of cleaning up beach areas, and have secured a fleet of 19 boats to assist in the CleanMag-based cleanup efforts.

If there could be a silver lining in a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon explosion, it might be manifested in the deployment of novel technologies such as CleanMag.