Burning may remove ocean oil spills thought to be incombustible


By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, June 19 -- Penn State researchers said laboratory experiments have shown that burning can clean up some open-water oil spills previously believed to be incombustible, provided wave and wind conditions are right.

Anil K. Kulkarni, professor of mechanical engineering, said, "Oil spill combustion can be a highly effective cleanup measure for contained spills occurring on open-water bodies, such as an oil spill on the ocean contained by booms or a spill surrounded by ice."

An open-water demonstration still is needed to prove the concept, he told the Arctic and Marine Oil Spill Program meeting in Calgary recently.

Researchers say inexpensive burning could have a removal success of more than 99%.

"The burning is very rapid and any resulting ecological damage is less severe compared to conventional oil removal methods," Kulkarni said.

But wind and wave activity can hamper burning, since oil spilled at sea mixes with water over time, forming an emulsion that is difficult or impossible to ignite.

Penn State researchers said diesel fuel emulsions up to 80% water, and crude emulsions up to 35% water, can be ignited. In the laboratory experiments, two electric heating panels were positioned above 10 in. of water. The researchers poured oil and water emulsions on the water and applied heat.

Kulkarni said that in open-water conditions, the heat could come from a deliberately set fire.

"A small fire will not produce sufficient heat flux, but if the fire's size is sufficiently large, it will provide the needed minimum heat flux for the surrounding emulsion to ignite and burn. As the emulsion ignites, the fire's size will grow ... causing it to ignite in a chain reaction that will continue until all of the emulsion is burned. In this way, a spill previously considered incombustible can be removed," he said.

Penn State researchers have correlated the density of oils and emulsions with the amount of heat needed to cause the spill to ignite.

"Using density measurements of a specific spill will make it easier for people who are managing the cleanup to decide what to do. Rather than try to decide whether to attempt burning the spill based on the type of oil it is, for example Alaskan North Slope, Milne Point crude, or diesel, they can measure the spill's density and then consult the charts we've developed to determine how large a heat flux would be needed," Kulkarni said.

Related Articles

White House eyes steps to curb oil, gas methane emissions

03/29/2014 The White House announced additional steps to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations as part of a broader strategy. They included reg...

FWS lists lesser prairie chicken as threatened species

03/28/2014 The US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. While the Mar. 27 final rule fell short of the endanger...

MARKET WATCH: NYMEX oil climbs back above $100/bbl

03/27/2014 Crude oil futures on the New York market climbed above $100/bbl for the first time in a week on Mar. 26. The momentum continued in early Mar. 27 tr...

EPA leads investigation of crude discharge at BP Whiting refinery

03/26/2014 The US Environmental Protection Agency took formal charge of investigation and cleanup efforts after an undetermined amount of crude oil spilled in...

Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected