MIT Researchers Create Efficient Way to Clean Oil Spills

Written by on September 15, 2012 in Technology
A controlled burn of surface oil after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo Credit USCG.

Other methods for cleaning up oil-spills include burning the surface oil. While somewhat effective, this creates a whole new host of environmental problems. Photo Credit USCG.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) have developed new technology to help clean up oil spills.  They have created a way to magnetically separate oil and water so efficiently that the recovered oil can then be sent to refineries and reused.

There work will be presented at the 2013 International Conference on Magnetic Fluids in New Delhi, India next January.

MIT postdoc and lead author Shahriar Khushrushahi explains that most oil spill recovery methods involve only the oil that remains floating on the surface, ignoring all the oil that sinks.

Their method involves getting the oil/water mixture in a confined space, which can be done with the same skimmers that are already used.  Then magnetic nanoparticles that “like the oil” are added to that mixture, making the oil magnetic.  This makes it easy to separate the magnetic oil from the water, leaving behind only clean water.  The magnetic nanoparticles can then be removed from the oil using existing technology, resulting in reusable oil and reusable nanoparticles.

They invision that the separation could take place directly aboard an oil-recovery vessel.

To learn more:

  • Read the full press release here: How to clean up oil spills
  • Watch the following video where MIT researchers explain their project:

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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