Establishing whether water can replace chemicals in cleaning up oil slicks has moved a step closer after tests at the Norwegian centre for testing of oil spill response equipment in Horten south of Oslo.
Karl Fjelde Nevland adjusts a boom while keeping his gaze fixed on the rig powering across the test basin, throwing up a spray of water and dark oil.
The student from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is working at the Horten centre with Hanne Solem Holt of the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) and Stein Erik Sørstrøm from the Sintef research foundation.
They are putting new technology with potential significance for future oil spill response through its paces at the facility, which was upgraded by the NCA in 2015.
This solution is part of the Oil Spill Response 2015 programme being pursued by the NCA and the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (Nofo).
Through the programme, these two organisations have invited Norwegian and international companies to propose new or improved clean-up methods for oil spills.
Years of work lie behind the 20 seconds that the rig takes to cross part of the 30-metre-long test basin – and Sørstrøm is the expert on this effort.
Nevland for his part represents the students at the NTNU School of Entrepreneurship (NSE), who have done a substantial job for the technology over the past year.
Holt is the principal engineer at the NCA who is helping to ensure that this innovative concept for mechanical dispersion can be tested.
“We don’t have dispersion equipment among our emergency response materials today, but it’s very interesting to see new hardware opportunities,” she says.
The aluminium rig surging back and forth is equipped with high-pressure nozzles which spray out water to make an oil slick break up into smaller droplets. These remain suspended in the water column and can be decomposed by bacterial action.
This approach is largely used already by offshore players, but with the aid of chemicals. Replacing these additives by water is intended to have the same effect.
“This is the most realistic test we’ve conducted with this rig,” explains Sørstrøm, who has invented the solution and holds the patent.
“It’s been tried out earlier with oil on a small scale at Sintef and on a larger scale but without oil at the Marintek research centre.
“The present trial is important for acquiring all the information we need – for obtaining the final answer. We’re starting to get close now.”
He explains that the challenge is to achieve sufficient energy when the water spray hits the oil spill. A number of sprayers are needed to cover a slick.
“We’ve now tested how far apart it’s possible to position the nozzles, and how quickly we can run the rig over a slick,” he says.
Sørstrøm and his colleagues will use the test results from Horten to adjust the solution before it undergoes final verification under realistic ocean conditions.
“It’s not unusual for testing at the centre to result in changes and adjustments,” says Holt. “That’s also one reason for hiring time here to conduct realistic trials.”
Sørstrøm’s goal is to end up with a solution which provides a wider operational window and simpler logistics compared with such options as chemical dispersants.
“This method could also be used for a time after a spill,” he observes. “If we succeed, it’ll reduce the logistical challenges we see with chemical dispersants. It only needs access to water.”
Also present is R&D adviser Hans V Jensen at Nofo, which is financing the tests. The NCA is contributing personnel and facilities, while the NSE students have worked with the market and prepared a business plan.
“We’ve explored the commercialisation potential, and worked to ensure that the product we’re developing corresponds with what the customers want,” says Nevland (picture to the right).
He explains they have mapped a world market characterised by a number of players but with a limited range of available statistics and controls.
“We found a lot of gut feeling in the decision base among many buyers of oil spill response equipment, but have identified potential competitors and suppliers as well as a global industry network.”
Oil Spill Response 2015.
- This programme has been established to encourage industry to develop new products and solutions which can meet future NCA and Nofo operational requirements. This can be done either by developing new technology or by combining new and established solutions for use in other applications or operations. A new topic in this programme is the challenges which offshore activity on the Norwegian continental shelf could face as it moves steadily further north.
ChemFree is one of 19 projects in Oil Spill Response 2015.
- It exploits nature’s own biological methods in combating oil spills.
- The prototype comprises a high-pressure pump which drives water into a floating rig fitted with nozzles, which direct a high-energy water spray onto a slick.
- Once the oil has been pounded into small particles of 20-40 microns, it does not resurface and bacteria found naturally in the sea can decompose the droplets.
- If ChemFree works on an operational scale, it can reduce the use of the chemicals normally employed as dispersants today.
- The prototype can be towed over a slick from a ship or combined with booms which guide the oil into the treatment area.
- In the longer term, the goal is to operate ChemFree remotely so that it can be deployed in narrow or ice-filled waters.
- Stein Erik Sørstrøm from Sintef is the inventor of the technology, holds the patents for it and heads the project.
- The NSE team comprises three students in different disciplines:
- Nina Heir (architecture), Anette Gjerde Andersen (biotechnology) and Karl Fjelde Nevland (mechanical engineering for flow technology).
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