Monday, June 21, 2010

Consortium brings proven technologies to Gulf clean up

This article provided by Rick Thomason, author of

They are scientists and engineers with one focus: They want to put to use the technologies they have developed, or have permission to distribute, to help clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

They are the Gulf Recovery Team, LLC.

Friday night representatives from three of the companies in the consortium presented their products and services to a crowd of people at the Walton County Library in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

The meeting was organized by local resident and businessman John Finch, owner of Sunshine Shuttle and its affiliated businesses. Finch flew to Miami, FL, to get the consortium to come to south Walton for the presentation.

Prior to the public meeting the group also made a pitch to Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson who got high marks from the businessmen for his proactive approach and tough questions.

Tom Roberts, president and CEO of Atlas-Transoil, Inc., said the goal of the consortium is to “try to develop a plan for the specific issues this area might encounter with the oil spill.” Walton County’s issues would be different than those in, say, Baldwin County, AL.

Roberts added that each company represented at the meeting and in the consortium has “superior technology” to clean up the environment.

Dr. Barry Liss, who leads the alliance, said GRT would focus on:

- Oil spill clean up expeditors

- Oil recover from the ocean

- Shoreline protection

- Contamination control

- Recovery and disposal

Each of the eight companies in the group brings a different expertise and technology to the table. And not all of what they bring might be applicable to a specific area.

“We will need a local survey of needs to identify needs and costs,” said Liss.

Make no mistake. These are businessmen who hold fiduciary responsibilities to their companies. So they were in Walton County touting their goods and services with the hopes that those in attendance would further their story to local decision makers.

But one also got the feeling that these men also were highly concerned with the future of the Gulf of Mexico and wanted to assist in its recovery.

John DiBella of Enviro Voraxial Technology, or EVTN, spoke about his company’s machinery which, for what it purports to do, is amazingly simple. The machines provide a continuous flow of liquid through a tube fitted with a patented low-shear rotary assembly. That assembly creates a vortex inside the tube. The rest of the process is described on the company’s website: By this action, heavier materials (such as solids) are forced to the outside of the vortex while lighter materials (such as oil) are drawn to form the central core of the vortex, thereby creating separated flow streams. A specially designed manifold is utilized at the exit of the separation chamber to collect the separated streams.

The machines are not designed to deal with deep-water oil, such as plumes. Instead, they work on the top one or two inches of the surface where most of the oil eventually floats up to. Booms are used to corral the oil and funnel it into skimmers which then feed it to the intake.

“We think this is a good fit for local needs,” DiBella said.

If the concept seems familiar, it’s because it sounds similar to the layman to the technology actor Kevin Costner trotted out several weeks ago. But DiBella quickly point out three distinguishing differences.

“First, Mr. Costner’s equipment is a centrifuge,” DiBella noted. “It’s a completely different technology. Second, his equipment maxes out at less than half the capacity of our separator with the two-inch pipe, which is the smallest of the three unit sizes available from the company. Third, our equipment is about half the price.

“Every technology that helps clean up this mess has a place,” DiBella quickly noted. “But we believe on the scale that’s needed here, our machinery is superior.”

The company makes three versions of the Voraxial Separator, as the machinery is known. A two-inch intake pipe allows one of the separators to process 70,000 gallons in a 24-hour period. Jump to a four-inch intake pipe and the process volume increases exponentially to 700,000 gal/day. Double the intake pipe again? Yes, and the capacity escalates to a whopping 7,000,000 gal/day.

“No other product out there can handle the volume that we can, except for tankers,” DiBella noted. And even that isn’t a direct comparison because unless the tankers are outfitted with additional, specialized equipment they can only collect water and oil, not separate the two.

Because of the compact size of the separators, all but the largest model can be deployed on almost any shallow-draft boat considered a “vessel of opportunity” in the current oil spill crisis.

Dr. Brad Droy, recently a south Walton County resident, brought a decidedly more low-tech product to the table. At least outwardly it appeared low tech. But looks can be deceiving.

Droy is president and CEO of ASAT (Applied Science & Advanced Technologies) Inc., which is the exclusive U.S. provider of an absorbent product called PowderSorb.

PowderSorb is a light and airy powder. Droy passed around a gallon bag, about half full, of the stuff and everyone marveled at the almost weightlessness of it.

Working as an absorbent, PowderSorb pulls the crude oil into capillary spaces and prevents it from contacting the surrounding environment. By converting it into a solid, floating phase (i.e., PowderSorb retains the crude internally), Droy says skimming efficiently is greatly enhanced.

How effective is the product? “PowderSorb will absorb nine-tenths of a gallon of crude oil for every gallon of the product,” Droy said.

And there’s more good news for local officials who might be considering the use of PowderSorb. It is non-toxic, biodegradable, received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency as a ‘sorbent’ under the National Contingency Plan, and has been used on oil spills around the world.

For a small demonstration of PowderSorb (which, by the way, was developed in Finland):

A couple more notes about PowderSorb:

- The product can be used as a cleaning agent for oil-contaminated birds and mammals. PowderSorb, when placed on the animal, wicks away the oil from feathers and fur. ASAT’s company brochure says, “This is a much less traumatic way of cleaning these animals as compared to the traditional scrubbing with soap and water, which requires excessive handling.”

- PowderSorb can also be packed into a sock to form a sock boom – you may have seen some of that type of boom on CNN – that will contain and absorb. Additional granulate can be deployed on the surface of the contained oil to facilitate skimming and collection because it forms a heavier mass of floating, thicker product than just floating oil.

- TEA, Inc., the licensee for PowderSorb, now has offices in Miramar Beach. That office is staffed by Les Porterfield, who has been a practicing engineer in the area for a number of years. Porterfield is a Senior Remediation Engineer with the company.

- The product can be deployed to capture sub-surface, suspended dispersed oil. When used at depth, Droy said PowderSorb will absorb the dispersed crude and float it up to the surface at the same time.

DiBella’s machinery pulls oil out of the water. In the case of the Gulf oil spill, British Petroleum has allegedly laid claim to all reclaimed oil. We’ll see how that works out for them.

But Droy’s product and many others used in the recovery, while cleaning up the mess, also create byproducts that must eventually be dealt with.

Re-enter Tom Roberts from the beginning of this piece.

Roberts’ company uses conventional gasification techniques to thermally treat hydrocarbon-soaked soils so those soils can be fully recycled back into the environment.

The capital outlay for a KleenSoil waste treatment facility will run $30-35 million. Once a project – such as the Gulf clean up – is complete, the plant can still be operational to dispose of all manner of waste with the energy produced being sold back to local electric providers.

And lest you believe such a waste-to-energy facility would be a space hog, Roberts said the footprint would likely be a paltry three acres.

Constructing one of these plants is an 8-month process, and that’s after the permitting process is complete. So what to do with contaminated sand/soil in the mean time? Roberts had an answer for that, too. His company loads it on a barge and stores it in an approved facility at Port Manatee in Palmetto, FL. It is a common practice to send waste to a permitted fixed base facility. Anything from one drum of used personal protective equipment from a soil/groundwater investigation to acres of excavated soil. Most companies would not want to go through the hassles of the permitting process, much less the expense.

Deployment of any of these technologies fully depends on needs assessment and contracting. Understandably, these businessmen are not going to commit vast amounts of product and resources until the ink is dry on paper.

But they came as a group, offering myriad solutions.

Dr. Liss said in closing, “We want to be Walton County’s one-stop shop for management of this mess.”


  1. I attended the meeting and was very impressed with the technology. I hope our county officials will move forward with a plan to prevent the oil from coming ashore as opposed to just cleaning it up once it gets here. The enviro voraxial "water skimmer/oil separator" sounds like it came from the Bugs Bunny vs the Martian cartoon. However, it could be a very effective tool deployed quickly. Let's get them out in the water to start cleaning up the oil. The absorbent "powdersorb" seems to be a good addition to the adsorbent boom system already in place. I liked the idea of the waste treatment facility but with the expense and turn around time, it sounds like a long term green solution for handling our waste.

    Thank you to John Finch for being proactive in gathering some information about solutions that could be used on a local level.
    -Kim Polakoff

  2. Once again the private sector and local business owners team up to present local government with more options to address the oil spill impact. These proposed solutions should be quickly tested here in Walton County as soon as possible. Based on actual results t he most effective solutions should be implemented and scaled up at a local level based on their value to the clean-up process and available funding. This will enable Walton County to further enhance its own plans and abilities to minimize the environmental and economic impact of the spill. Great work everyone, and thank you.

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