Researchers at MIT have created a method to separate oil from water using magnets. This is of growing importance as oil spills occur more frequently around the world and the need to separate oil from our natural water rises. The method to separate oil from water created by MIT has great potential as the need for this maneuver rises in society. So how does it work? By mixing water repellent, ferrous nano particles into the oil, they are able to separate the mixture from the water at a later time.
It is a simple method that can be used
on a larger scale and deployed at sea for days or weeks, where electrical power is scarce and maintenance facilities limited.
The use of this technology can reduce costs and increase effectiveness of clean up efforts. Let’s look at a couple reasons why it is important to separate oil from water in an oil spill situation. According to the New York Times in 2010,
As of Aug. 16, more than 7,000 birds, sea turtles and dolphins have been found dead or debilitated in the gulf since the oil spill began. A majority of the dead were not visibly oiled, and officials have yet to determine why they died. But they have confirmed that many more animals are dying than during the same time period in previous years.
It is not necessarily that the spilled oil killed the animals, but that the oil disrupted a delicate ecosystem in which the animals lived and the failure to quickly and effectively separate oil from the life giving water of their ecosystem was detrimental to their life and impaired their ability to survive. The U.S. Department of Commerce: Office of Response and Restoration talks about the detrimental effects of oil on marine life including both animals and plants.
Spilled oil can harm living things because its chemical constituents are poisonous. This can affect organisms both from internal exposure to oil through ingestion or inhalation and from external exposure through skin and eye irritation. Oil can also smother some small species of fish or invertebrates and coat feathers and fur, reducing birds’ and mammals’ ability to maintain their body temperatures.
The health of our ocean ecosystems and bodies of water depend on action that is both quick and effective. This method of used to separate oil from ocean water could lead to a quick way to deal with one of society’s ever prevalent tragedies.
Researchers did not mention possible negative effects that mixing in ferrous nano particles will have, if any, but I suppose for right now it is better than oceans full of oil.