BP crowdsources Gulf clean-up technologies

Even as the world waits to see whether BP can permanently stem the flow of oil into the Gulf, the company is evaluating technologies to clean up the disaster.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read

If you think you have a technology that can help clean up the Gulf oil disaster, then BP says it wants to hear from you.

Shortly after the oil started spewing in April, BP set up an Alternative Response Technology Web site to solicit ideas for stemming the flow and cleaning up the environment. With the Gulf accident being so severe and high-profile, it has captured the attention of thousands of entrepreneurs.

Critics contend that the Web site is mainly geared at improving BP's image, but some technologies have made it though the BP filter for testing.

Last week, Clean Beach Technologies said it got final approval from BP for a sand-cleaning technology submitted through the idea-capturing Web site.

Evaluating Gulf oil cleanup technologies (photos)

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Clean Beach Technologies' trailer-mounted Beach Restoration System is a machine that physically separates oil and sand using a combination of water and a biodegradable chemical. Oily sand is piled into a hopper and then goes through three tanks where the oil is treated and collected, according to the company.

BP has also come across ideas for separating oil from ocean water. It has already purchased oil-water separators made by Kevin Costner-backed Ocean Therapy Solutions.

Four of these centrifuge units, which were originally developed in the Idaho National Laboratory, are being used in deep water on a vessel equipped with a skimmer. The separator takes advantage of the different densities between water and oil to spin the mixture and separate the two liquids.

Last week, Florida-based Enviro Voraxial Technologies said that it has received an order to test a different kind of oil-water separator in the Gulf. The separator is built around a tube where a vortex causes heavier liquids and solids to go to the sides for collection.

The idea is to equip relatively small boats with separators that will work underwater, a process that eliminates the need for on-board storage and allows skimming vessels to stay out longer, according to the company. A fishing boat equipped with two separators can process 1.4 million gallons of water a day, it said.

Meanwhile, many companies are proposing bioremediation approaches in which bacteria are added to the water to eat the oil. However, that approach has not shown good results in the past, according to an oil spill expert.

Based on tests done with Exxon Valdez spill and another in Delaware, adding microbes "is highly unlikely to be of any help," Ron Atlas, professor of biology and public health at the University of Louisville, said in a blog for the American Society of Microbiology, which was quoted in Environment & Energy Daily.

Tapping outsiders for good ideas is nothing new, but it appears to be getting more formal treatment from big companies. General Electric and four venture-capital companies last week announced a contest, funded with $200 million, to solicit good technology ideas from the masses for modernizing the electricity grid.

BP said it is receiving thousands of ideas a day and has increased the size of the staff to evaluate options. An interagency government working group established by the U.S. Coast Guard is involved in evaluating proposals as well.