Linda F. Benedict, Bogren, Richard C.
A device that can "harvest" an oil spill in open seas or in a marsh – much like a combine harvests wheat and eliminates the chaff – was built as a working concept model by LSU AgCenter engineer Chandra Theegala.
Theegala, a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering who has taught fluid mechanics for years, now waits for sufficient resources to bring the concept model to a full-blown working prototype.
Theegala developed the idea in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April. His invention uses a boom to skim surface oil and water through a positive displacement pump and into a container where the oil and water separate naturally. The oil floats up through a pipe into a collection vessel while the water goes another direction and is discharged back to where it came from.
"It relies on the principles of density difference between the two liquids in a U-tube and has no moving parts other than the pump," Theegala said. "It works with a commercially available, engine-powered diaphragm pump. Unlike other types of pumps that emulsify the oil, the diaphragm pump keeps the oil floating on the water. It works in an up-and-down motion – like chest compression in CPR."
Theegala’s initial concept model can pump about 4,000 gallons of an oil-water-air mixture per hour.
"A fully working model could handle 10 times that volume," he said. "The material cost on this concept unit is around $7,000 and includes the pontoon unit and the pump."
(This article was published in the spring 2010 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture