Several years ago I read a great article about AbTech. The founder had developed a way to solidify oil slicks so I thought it would be good to see what has happened to this technology, as it was a way to clean up after an oil spillage.
Thankfully, we haven’t heard of a major oil tanker disaster for several years – I certainly remember the Exxon Valdez that ran aground in 1989 and spilled 280,000 barrels of oil into the Alaskan waters and the earlier Amoco Cadiz off Brittany that dumped 1.6M barrels into the Atlantic during 1978. When the Deepwater Horizon accident occurred in 2010, AbTech Industries had only really just got started in developing their technologies.
AbTech’s “smart sponge” is quite amazing. As you can imagine from its name, it is a sponge that absorbs oil spillage or can be used to clean oily water in industrial processes. What is interesting about this technology is that it is “oleophilic”, in other words it attracts hydrocarbons and leaves everything else alone! It is also “hydrophobic” which means that it will not absorb water. Between these properties is the ability to collect oil and will only fill up with oil and therefore can be used in conjunction with booms and other kit to contain an oil leak or slick that may occur after an accident. The sponges float, so it is easy to deploy in a spillage area and then pick them up once they are full of the waste.
The really impressive feature is that once the oil is absorbed, it won’t come out and AbTech have suggested that the full sponge could then be re-used in waste-to-energy plants where the sponge can be burned to create an energy source. So in effect, oil slicks can be absorbed and then converted to an energy source without further damaging the environment!
AbTech is based in Scottsdale, Arizona with sites in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand and has expanded into stormwater and other environmental cleaning technologies.