Big oil spills are an environmental and public health disaster – not to mention an economic one. The last big oil spill, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill resulted in millions of gallons of oil spilling into the sea – a nightmare to clean up.
While big oil spills are a cause of concern and often spur an indignant cry from the global community, everyday, little oil spills are occurring in our waters. Along our coastlines, harbors and ports, as oil is transported from one place to another, amounts of it are spilled.
According to Vadim Manov, around 18,000 to 24,000 of these sorts of oil spills occur annually, spilling around 40 to 100 million liters of oil into our waters around our harbors and coasts.
Mr. Manov is the vice president of sales for EcoBasalt, a new company marketing a line of oil adsorbent material that they say is a more eco-friendly way to cleaning up oil spills.
Since the 1980s, synthetic, oil-based polypropylene material has been used to absorb and stop the spread of oil in water. The problem with this is the material that these are often slow to react and toxic to dispose of.
EcoBasalt produces and markets a material they’ve dubbed SB-1 that is made from basalt fibers. Basalt fibers are made from a common, black volcanic rock known as basalt.
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Basalt fibers have a number of interesting properties that lend themselves to a variety of uses. They are thermally stable, have heat, cold and sound insulation properties, are resistant to electromagnetic and gamadariation, vibration resistant and very durable.
When it comes to cleaning up oil spills, EcoBasalt’s basalt fiber based SB-1 takes special advantage of two of the materials properties: that it is hydrophobic and does not absorb water and that it is highly oil adsorbent.
Being oil adsorbent is different from oil absorbent as absorbents incorporate the oil internally into the material, soaking it up. Adsorbents keep the oil externally, it physically coats the material. A materials adsorption capacity depends upon the amount of surface area it has.
“Our material shows a great range of adsorption ability, one gram of our SB-1 material can take up to 72 grams of oil,” Mr. Manov told EcoSeed.
SB-1 can also collect oil very fast, an important characteristic when you talking about cleaning oil from water. In open water, the winds and tides can quickly cause oil to spread and become a major problem when it reaches the shorelines.
“The speed and how fast the material can work are very important. While polypropylene it takes about 10 or 15 hours to absorb the oil, our material can do it in one hour,” said Mr. Manov.
Specifically, SB-1 can absorb up to 75 times its own weight in oil within just 30 minutes. This oil is not prevented from contaminating the surrounding areas but can also be extracted and collected for re-use. This is another advantage of the material as it allows for 98 percent of the oil absorbed to be saved, compared to only five to eight percent in other materials.
“The idea is very basic; our clients will not lose oil anymore. All oil the material can take from the ocean can be gotten back with the use of a very simple pressure or vacuum pump equipment that already exists in ships, ports and other seaside places,” said Mr. Manov.
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Aside from allowing the re-use or recycling of spilled oil, the adsorbent material can also be reused, making for a truly greener solution to the problem of oil spills.
Being a 100 percent organic material, once oil is taken out of SB-1 it becomes easy to dispose of, but it can also be recycled and used in a variety of applications such as in asphalt for roads and insulation for buildings.
According to Mr. Manov, the company is set to produce their first batch of materials in the coming months, with sales targeted for August of September of this year. They also intend to develop their own production site and look into commercializing their material for other applications.
“There are a few more things we can do with basalt fibers in general and were looking at about seven or eight applications in the market such as in agroponics, insulation, protection against gamma radiation to name a few,” said Mr. Manov.
They will also be working on improving the SB-1 material and making it easier to apply to a variety of conditions such as in calm water, deeper ocean waters and even around land-bound refineries to clean fraking water.
“We have something for an already existing market but it’s something really new which is definitely better and will provide another inch of quality,” said Mr. Manov.
“Our challenge now is to get global to continue developing the material and the applications around it. We do not want to be a one product company,” he said.
By. Katrice R. Jalbuena