On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 and causing the rig to sink, and starting a massive oil discharge into the Gulf of Mexico and an environmental diaster.
Over the 87 days after the explosion, about 200 million gallons of oil spilled – the largest oil spill in the history of marine oil drilling. Responding organiztions tried to clean up the surface oil by burning it, (pumping tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, a little-covered side environmental disaster that followed the more high profile rig explosion.)
But the oil under the water was unrecoverable. Amazingly, the oil industry was drilling for a substance that routinely spills into waterways, with no technology for cleaning up those spills. Today, that’s generally unheard of in industry – if there’s a history of spilling something, typically companies have to know how they’d clean such a spill up (compliance is another matter).
But that may be no longer the case. Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory won an R&D 100 Award last year for developing the Oleo Sponge.
The newly-designed absorbent can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in oil, and importantly, can work below the surface, not just on it. The sponge has an unusual property – it absorbs oil, but doesn’t absorb water.
“The Oleo Sponge offers a set of possibilities that, as far as we know, are unprecedented,” co-inventor Seth Darling, a scientist with Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials and a fellow of the University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering, said on the lab’s website last year.
“It loves oil and it hates water,” Darling says in the video below.
How Stuff Works – Have We Improved Oil Rig Technology?