In the last 40 years or so there have been 13 major oil spills worldwide. Despite our dependence on oil, we have not yet come up with an effective way of cleaning up after our devastating messes. A physicist at Fermilab, however, has come up with an environmentally-friendly way to sop up oil spills without the use of chemicals, and with the ability to reuse the collected oil. The surprisingly simple answer is to use magnets.
Arden Warner describes his experiments to Motherboard with “organically magnetizing” oil by simply adding ground magnetite. The viscous material binds to the magnetite and is able to be pulled along with it when a magnet sweeps by. This allows spills to be quarantined, in a sense, and removed from the ocean. In the video, a magnetized wand is seen vacuuming up crude oil in an experimental setting.
Warner’s plan is to introduce a system of containment booms which will collect the magnetized oil and draw it into a container with a magnetized base. The oil will separate from the water and the magnetite will be drawn downward. The collected oil is then as good as new and would not need to go to waste. Using magnetite poses few risks, seeing as it is already naturally present in the environment and not toxic. Seeing as independence from oil is something we will likely not see for many years, having this simple and eco-friendly option for cleaning up spills and preventing harm to wildlife is essential.
Images via YouTube