Homepage Forums Environmental Forums clean up the oil spill with a plasma torch?

Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
  • Author
  • #825

    Aside from FF making oil drilling unneeded, there is the question of cleaning up these spills. The oil is still there in Alska 20 years after Exxon Valdez. One way might be to get giant excavators to feed contaminated sand into a FF-driven plasma torch. Maybe someone out there can give an estimate of how man FF devices would be needed.


    The beaches would be easy compared to the marshes. Which brings up the question of how BP could ever “make it right” as their CEO promises in their latest ad. I suppose we could start by clarifying what he means by “it” and “right”…


    Two questions:
    – How would the plasma torch separate the oil from the sand?
    – Isn’t the excavation of contaminated soil going to do a lot of damage?

    According to wikipedia separating bitumen from soil is usually done by injecting steam. A process which requires a lot of energy in its own right:
    “Approximately 1.0 – 1.25 gigajoule of energy is needed to extract a barrel of bitumen and upgrade it to synthetic crude.”

    There is research on breaking down crude oil using bacteria. The main problem there seems to be to supply the bacteria with the minerals they need to break down the oil. I saw one research suggesting lipophilic fertilizers (uric acid and lecithin) for this. Even if the latter issue is solved there is still the Eutrophication of the affected area to deal with. So perhaps relocating this mix of lipophilic fertilizer, bacteria and contaminated soil to some desert for agriculture might do the trick?


    Well if we could start with just one FF Plasma Torch and give it a try….The baked (or steamed) soil could be mixed with some non polluted soil as seed material. It would regenerate the ecosystem a lot faster than leaving it contaminated the way it is now. Also regarding the current spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they’re currently deploying 1200 ships in the clean up. Each one could be outfitted with remote operated Plasma Torches to help deal with beach and marsh areas that are inaccessible. The ships I’m sure are burning prodigious amounts of diesel just to motor around and will be for many years. If they were powered by FF generators instead, decontamination would be a cleaner, less expensive process.


    Edit: error


    We wouldn’t have the temperature required to melt the sand into glass ingots, but we could possibly evaporate the oil out of the sand, or the water out of the oil in a continuous process flash heater. In any event, we’d need to keep the VOC resultants out of the atmosphere due to EPA regulations.


    playing devil’s-advocate a little here, but why not just leave it.

    Nature will break it down eventually – sure it will take decades. Some animals will die, others may be better off – that’s life. As a punishment for humans we should cordon off the hole area from human activity and leave it as a nature reserve for a hundred years. If we can’t be trusted to manage the environment then we shouldn’t be allowed to use it.

    Note I think everyone needs to take collective responsibility not just BP. Sure they take the brunt of the costs, but it affects us all in the long run. We wanted cheap oil/gas and so the safeguards were only as good as people and governments were prepared to pay & legislate for.


    It’s a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Studies I’ve been reading point to a couple of factors. One is phototoxicity. The oil becomes more toxic being exposed to sunlight. Another is that oil that gets covered up degrades much more slowly. As it gets covered with sediments, creatures and plant life that try to burrow into it are poisoned and it continues to seep into the water. It only takes small amounts to do damage to life:

    According to a National Academy of Sciences report Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects (2003); “Several studies have demonstrated the potential for oil residuals on beach sediments to have significant toxic effects on fish eggs and embryos. Heintz et al. (1999) reported embryo mortality of pink salmon with laboratory exposure to aqueous total PAH concentrations as low as 1 ppb total PAH derived from artificially weathered Alaska North Slope crude oil. This is consistent with the field observations of Bue et al. (1996) of embryo mortality of pink salmon in streams traversing oiled beaches following the spill from the Exxon Valdez. Carls et al. (1999) exposed Pacific herring eggs for 16 days to weathered Alaska North Slope crude oil and observed that exposure to initial aqueous concentrations as low as 0.7 ppb PAH caused developmental malformations, genetic damage, mortality, decreased size at hatching, and impaired swimming. Concentrations as low as 0.4 ppb caused premature hatching and yolk-sac edema. Exposure to less weathered oil produced similar results but at higher exposure concentrations (9.1 ppb).
    Other investigators have observed developmental effects on fish and invertebrates exposed to low concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons (Capuzzo et al., 1988). The high toxicity of weathered oil reported by Heintz et al. (1999) and Carls et al. (1999), however, suggests that higher concentrations of one or more constituents in weathered fractions relative to total PAH contribute to the increased toxicity.” Oil in the Sea 2003

    So our food chain can be affected long term. I would say jumping on spills quickly and removing all traces would be a better way to go if done carefully. I leave it to the engineering experts to figure out how to employ a FF powered plasma torch carefully. It could remove the oil with minimal emissions.


    Ex situ bioremediation, possibly with a first round of phytoremediation to clean any heavy metals. On the long run this would be the most beneficial process. The displaced contaminated soil can eventually (after initial phytoremediation) be used for conventional agriculture.

    The energy costs of this are the initial superficial excavation of contaminated soil from beaches and marshland, transportation to a suitable location for processing, seeding with air, fertilizer and microorganisms, building infrastructure to prevent leakage of toxins into environment, mixing with existing soil, and, possibly, desalination for irrigation if the location does not have a freshwater supply. If i am not mistaken desalination is a process that has been discussed in this forum before.




    @breakable: Thanks for the link, that was interesting.

    The clip show in situ bioremediation being applied. Note that this can lead to eutrophication of the affected area. Eutrophication is a severe problem in and of itself. (Maybe one of the greatest climatological disasters waiting to happen. Cyanobacteria blooms can thoroughly destroy an ecosystem’s ability for CO2 uptake. Global blooms could turn the oceans into CO2 sources instead of CO2 drains. If this were to happen it spells global disaster.)

    A quote from an oil-spill contingency plan by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute:
    “There are very few cleanup options which do not cause significant impacts
    to these sensitive habitats. However, there may be conditions under
    which bioremediation may be considered, particularly for lighter oils. In
    wetlands with shallow, poorly mixed water bodies, the potential increase in
    eutrophication and ammonia caused by aggressive bioremediation needs to
    be considered.”

    AvatarBrian H

    Supposedly, this mixture, Arch-microbes, actually increases the oxygen loading. Anti-eutrophication, as it were. Of course, this is probably not good enough since Obama & his czar-cabal are requiring 99.9985% purity. %-P


    If this indeed works as advertised this would only be great. I’m still skeptical because it might not work as well in the real problem areas which are the beaches and marshlands. Also nothing is said on the fertilizer that is being distributed with the bacteria allowing them to eat the goo. That’s what the whole eutrophication thing is about: such high nitrate levels might also turn on lots of other stuff that we don’t want polluting the oceneans with toxins, destroying the food chain by driving out naturally occuring plankton (by which to oceans account for the highest uptake of CO2 on the planet; exceeding even rainforrests). The image linked below is the result of a comprehensive study about human impact on the biosphere in the anthropocene era:
    There are two areas where we are WAY outside the safe zone, biodiversity and nitrogen (fertilizer).

    Of course, if these microbes do their work, safely, that would be great, basically it would be a quick fix. Still, mechanical removal, followed by bioremediation at a controlled site, seems like the most risk-free and durable solution to me. (Unfortunately it is also way more expensive than simply spreading some magic powder over the ocean).


    There is an independently organized TED event on the gulf oil spill. The clip linked below is from Ronald Atlas. He’s talking about bioremediation:
    http://tedxoilspill.com/live/#Session2 (skip ahead to: 21:50)
    Some highlights:
    Note that he mentions that there is an intrinsic limit to how much fertilizer you can add before adverse effects take over (29:30).
    With respect to specialized microbes he’s very skeptical (32:00).
    He has a very funny story from his work on the Exxon Valdez disaster (34:42) 🙂
    With respect to the shorelines/marshlands he says it’s usually better to let the oil weather naturally than to excavate it. So i guess he dismisses ex-situ bioremediation here (37:40) So, maybe i was a bit overoptimistic there :red:

    One of the other speakers, in the next session, impressed me as well:
    http://tedxoilspill.com/live/#Session3 (skip ahead to: 1:37:00)
    I was particularly struck by the emotion of the speaker. Somewhere halfway into his talk. You can really see this subject touches deep with many people. It should, i think.

    Finally, the fourth session, on the future of energy, would have been a great opportunity for promoting focus fusion:
    As far as i could see, skimming over it, all the speakers focus on renewables. They claim that technologies such as solar, wind, photosynthesis can replace oil on the long run. Of course we know they are on the wrong track. Powering the world on those renewables alone would quickly use up all the available land areal and resources. Unless, of course, we do something about our consumption. In this sense it is perhaps good that we go through this crisis phase of kicking our fossil fuel addiction before moving on to fusion. At least it is making many people think very creatively about how to make all kinds of processes more energy efficient and safer (33:40).

    There is one speaker, Klaus Lackner, who has some background in fusion (the chair does not specify what kind of a background exactly). But even he does not mention fusion. He DOES, however, advocate a mass-production/distributed-generation approach that is very close to what Eric Lerner is proposing with the plasma focus (41:50).

Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.