Carlo Ratti's conveyor belt oil extractor

During the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, 800 skimmers were deployed to recover oil from the water’s surface. Through this method, only three percent of the oil was collected. Because the boats need to collect and then separate oil from water but return to shore to do so, it’s an inefficient process.

So what if there were a way to create an inexpensive, scale-able, and self-organizing system to address this problem?

Carlo Ratti

Carlo Ratti and his team at MIT’s SENSEable City Lab took on this challenge. They were looking to create a system of small units that could extract oil from the water’s surface onsite, collect energy from the sun to continue the process and finally, burn it off. They began by working with some material, created by an MIT professor, which separates and collects oil and leaves water behind. They then collaborated with the ocean engineering department at MIT to create a prototype that works like a conveyor belt rolling on the surface of the earth but nimble enough to adjust to waves. With small and large oil spills happening all the time (unfortunately), let’s hope they start producing this model for use in the near future.

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

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