18 Nov 2010   |   News   |   Update from NTNU
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NTNU: New technology for vacuuming up oil spills with tree bark

Students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) are looking for investors for Kaliber Industrial Design, a company they have set up to commercialise new equipment they developed for cleaning up oil spills.

The technology uses a new kind of vacuum cleaner that blows bark or other absorbent material onto oil spills, and then sucks the material up again. Kaliber says the vacuum cleaner, MOSE, or Mechanical Oil spill Sanitation Equipment, is four times more efficient in cleaning up after oil spills than conventional techniques.

The product, which started out as an assignment for Masters students in NTNU’s Department of Product Design, has already won a number of Scandinavian innovation awards, including DnB NOR’s Innovation Award for Mid-Norway, 2010; Tekna's Innovation Award 2010; second place in the 2010 Venture Cup National Finals; and the best student idea in the 2010 Venture Cup competition.

Current oil spill cleanup technology usually involves the use of an absorbent material, such as bark or peat moss, to soak up the oil. Workers then have to remove the wet, heavy and absorbent material, and any remaining oil residue may have to be scrubbed off.

“The oil vacuum cleaner automates what is currently done manually,” says Silje Rabben, one of the student inventors.

The vacuum cleaner currently weighs about 10 kilos, but the engineers are working to cut its weight to 5 kilos. It will also be modified so it can be folded up.

The machine first sprays bark or other absorbent material onto the spill. Rotating brushes in the head work the oil and the absorbent material together. When the oil and absorbent material are thoroughly mixed, the direction of the rotating brushes is reversed, enabling the bark to be sucked up into the equipment while the substrate is simultaneously scrubbed.

Leif Gunnar Smistad, a fire engineer and oil spill manager at Trondheim’s Fire and Rescue Service helped the students to develop the idea. He says the advantage of the vacuum cleaner is that it is portable. “Every day we spread bark on small oil spills from overfilled oil tanks, or from car accidents. Then we use a broom, a shovel and a bucket to clean up. We’re very interested in mobile solutions that make these cleanups more effective,” Smistad says.

For more information, visit the Kaliber Industrial design website.

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