It’s been almost 2 months now since the April 20th explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and we’re still in desperate search of a viable solution. Well one University of Pittsburgh engineering professor may have it. Di Gao, an assistant professor at the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering has developed a method of separating oil from water within just seconds using a cotton cloth coated in a chemical polymer. Gao tested his filter successfully on Gulf Oil water and has an impressive video to show it. Check it out after the jump.
The polymer Gao uses on his special cloth is both hydrophilic (it bonds with the hydrogen molecules in water) and oleophobic (oil repellant), making it absolutely perfect for blocking oil and letting water pass through. The chemical is applied to a plain old cotton cloth, which is then dried in an oven or in open air. As the video shows, the filter is simple but effective – it basically uses just gravity to draw clear water to the bottom of a container while nasty oil is captured.
So what’s the best way for this wonder filter to be applied in the Gulf disaster? Gao imagines large, trough-shaped filters that could be dragged through the water to contain surface oil, which could then be recovered, stored and even sold. Then the filters could even be reused. Gao has submitted the idea to the Deepwater Horizon Response website, and we sincerely hope that it is considered as a possible solution to this massive problem.