Cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf
Presented by Eric Hoek, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
4:00 PM - 5:45 PM
La Kretz Hall 110
Following the explosion of the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil platform in April of 2010, the news focused heavily on ways to contain and clean up the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). A critical element of oil spill cleanup is mechanical recovery, which generally involves the use of floating oil “booms” and “skimmers”. Booms are “submerged fence-like” buoys dragged through a spilled oil slick to corral the oil; skimmers are sophisticated pumps that transfer the corralled oil into the storage tanks onboard oil spill response vessels (OSRVs). Due to waves, weather, and limitations of available booms and skimmers, the liquid collected by OSRVs often comprises more than 90% water. This means that the oil tanks fill up quickly with a lot of water and a little bit of oil, and then are taken out of service to offload their cargo. This is highly inefficient and is one of the primary reasons why there were more than 7,000 vessels involved with the BP GoM oil spill response – the largest armada under one command since the US’s D-day invasion during WWII.
A new concept emerged during the BP GoM oil spill; that is the use of advanced oil-water separation technology onboard oil spill response vessels. In the year preceding the oil spill, we had been working with a novel oil-water centrifugal separator, initially looking at wastewater treatment applications like treating ‘produced water’––which is the oily and often brackish water that comes up during oil and gas production. However, almost immediately after the BP GoM oil spill happened, we switched our focus to oil spill cleanup and gained confidence that the centrifuge could separate oil from seawater very well in the lab, but no one really had any idea how it would work in the Gulf. Along with some representatives of the company that makes the centrifuge, we took a chance and went down to the GoM to demonstrate the technology to BP. Ultimately, after a series of field trials we proved to BP that we could integrat oil-water separation technology with state-of-the-art booms and skimmers – producing new efficiencies in mechanical recovery efforts related to oil spill cleanup. In this lecture, I will tell our story.
Dr. Eric M.V. Hoek is an Associate Professor in the Department Civil & Environmental Engineering and UCLA NanoMeTeR Laboratory. Prof. Hoek is also a faculty member of the California NanoSystems Institute and co-founder of the UCLA Water Technology Research Center. Dr. Hoek’s research explores advanced technologies for water purification, energy production, and environmental protection. In the past decade, Dr. Hoek along with his students and collaborators have published more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles, 9 patents (awarded or pending), and over 200 invited talks globally. In addition, Dr. Hoek has been involved with several startup companies focused on commercializing the inventions from his laboratory.