Water/Wastewater

  • Could Plants Help with Oil Spills?

Could Plants Help with Oil Spills?

Sep 03 2016 Read 1278 Times

Oil spills are a big problem environmentally. They cause a range of issues for a variety of animals – birds, mammals and sea life. The spills – from tankers, offshore platforms and drilling rigs – are also a huge problem socially and politically because they’re notoriously difficult to clean up. However, a new aquatic plant has been discovered that may hold the solution. Read on for an introduction to Salvinia Molesta.

Spills at sea

Whilst oil spills can occur on land, those at sea are much more of a problem. The oil can spread for hundreds of miles, covering beaches along the way. When the oil penetrates the plumage of the birds or furry mammals, it hinders them hugely. They become less insulated, less buoyant, and find it much harder to escape predators. Some birds become unable to fly, for instance. Young animals are particularly vulnerable as the strong scent of oil makes it nearly impossible for their mothers to find them by scent.

Cleaning up

After an oil spill at sea, cleaning up is very complicated. It depends on oil type and water temperature – and as previously mentioned, it can spread over a huge distance. Meanwhile in the south-east United States, fishermen are becoming increasingly frustrated by a think fern-like plant at sea. Salvinia Molesta is taking oxygen from the water, blocking out sunlight, and consequently reducing the amount of fish available for catching.

Pure annoyance? Maybe not. German researchers have found that this ‘irritating’ weed could be used to soak up oil. Its ‘hairy’ surface allows it to take the oil, while letting the water flow by. Scientists have tested it by creating a nanofur model with the same properties. After successful tests, it’s now thought both the nanofur and the natural plant could be used for cleaning up.

The research – involving the University of Bonn and the Institute of Microstructure Technology – is particularly successful because it utilises the annoying aquatic weed in America, as well as reducing the environmental impact of oil spills.

Oil in construction dewatering

Sometimes oil has to be removed from water after it’s been removed from its source. In construction, for instance, water has to meet the discharge limits for oil and grease before it is discharged. This means the oil has to be removed from the water to complete the dewatering process. Treating water can be complex, and depends on the type of oil or contaminants. The important issues surrounding water treatment are discussed in ‘How to Deal with Oils When Treating Contaminated Construction Dewatering Water’.

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