The broader impacts of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project address oil pollution in Alaskan waters by reducing costs associated with oil cleanup projects. In Alaska, the challenges of remoteness and cold raise oil cleanup costs by 100 times compared with other areas. The technology is a magnetic nanoparticle, 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, that can completely remove oil from water. To become competitive with current oil cleanup methods, it will undergo improvements for large scale production. The project also includes design, building, and testing a new prototype device for the technology. The technology will make spill cleanup faster and reduce environmental harm. In Alaska alone, oil spills cost $150 million to clean up annually.
This Phase I project is a cost-effective, environmentally-benign nanoparticle technology that can quantitatively remove oil from contaminated water. Alaska has been targeted as a testbed due to limitations posed by cold and geographical remoteness that raise oil cleanup costs 100-fold compared to less remote regions. The goal of the project is to develop an oil removal device that can be deployed to remote regions with low cost and effort, reducing the length and cost of a spill response. The first aim of the project will optimize the nanoparticle synthesis to minimize costs and maximize active yield at commercial scales. A laboratory-scale, prototype oil removal device will be designed, built, and validated to enable pilots with larger volumes of contaminated water. The initial application will be to dewater oil recovered from the environment within the holds of barges; this can exceed 80% water. Dewatering reduces waste volumes and transportation costs, reducing environmental exposure and subsequent environmental health impacts from oil pollution.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.