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AMPHOS                                                                                            AMPHOS , SPAIN

ADDRESSING OIL SPILL CLEANUP
USING HYDROPHOBIC MESHES

Since current oil spill cleanup and containment methods are often costly and operate
with only limited success, engineers at Amphos 21 have devised a numerical simulation
app for testing new cleanup techniques using hydrophobic meshes.
by LEXI CARVER

Oil spills are notorious                      FIGURE 1. Concept of a hydrophobic mesh operation.
                 for being urgent and
                 unexpected, known for        results in even more pumping after the    capabilities available for the engineers,
                 the villainous damage they   cleanup attempts, in order to access the  researchers, and cleanup crews seeking
 cause to aquatic environments and            original amounts of oil.                  the appropriate response for a given oil
 marine life, and must be contained                                                     spill scenario as they race against the
 swiftly before they cause long-term             In response to the need for cleanup    clock to stave off destruction.
 disaster. Techniques for containing          methods that prevent ecological disaster
 and recovering spilled oil are readily       and oil waste, Amphos 21, a consultant    ð POTENTIAL FOR NEW OIL
 available in the form of booms and           group specializing in environmental       RECOVERY METHOD
 skimmers that collect it, but these rarely   technology, has developed numerical
 fully rectify the problem.                   models of hydrophobic meshes, a           The meshes being studied at Amphos 21
                                              concept for collecting spilled oil that   are usually made of steel or copper and
    Booms are used to curb the spread         is being studied by scientists and        coated with a hydrophobic polymer to
 of oil into wider areas and keep the oil     technologists. Their goal? An answer to   repel water and attract oil. They act like
 from reaching sensitive coastlines. Some     this quandary that would be fast, easy
 designs absorb oil in an effort to remove    to use, and environmentally friendly.       lters; water remains on one side, while
 it, while skimming techniques are also                                                 oil passes through (see Figure 1). The
 used to clear oil away. In other cases,         After conceptualizing the              rates of oil ux through the holes of the
 controlled res burn oil off of the           hydrophobic mesh as a porous medium,      mesh depend on the water depth, oil
 water — though this creates another          they developed computer simulations       properties (which can vary depending
 pollutant — or chemical dispersants are      and custom applications to distribute     on where the oil is pumped), and the
 added to the water to accelerate the         to people in product development,         coating on the metal.
 breakdown of the oil components.             disaster response, and environmental
                                              organizations. Through simulation apps,      “In addition to being an effective
    These methods, while helpful, are         they intend to make virtual testing       option for clearing oil from the water,
 not able to collect much of the oil                                                    this offers the possibility of recycling
 during cleanup and are only effective if
 deployed very quickly to the site of the
 accident. Much of the oil sinks to the
 sea oor. For instance, cleanup efforts
 after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill
 off the Alaskan coast were unable to
 recover most of the oil.

    What is collected is often an oil-water
 mixture that is only partially usable. This
 means that in addition to the obvious
 environmental concerns, the wasted oil

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