Today, our methods of cleaning up tragic oil spills, such as the Deepwater Horizon accident and other large spills throughout history, haven’t changed that much. In fact, scientists really haven’t innovated this area at all.
It’s still ridiculously expensive, inefficient, time-consuming, and frustrating to clean up after things like neglect and human-error cause these environmental disasters. So why isn’t something being done to overhaul our cleanup approach?
The easy answer is that there aren’t enough large spills to justify research into new cleaning styles. It’s sort of like trying to find a new way to connect to electricity without creating a rattail of wires. Today’s methods work, and it’s not a big enough concern. (Read: Wireless Electricity)
Still, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t trying to innovate this area of environmental importance. A study in the early 2000s suggested that Egyptian Algae could potentially eat oil and clean up soils. This was sort of confusing, considering that oil is harmful to certain kinds of algae. Nonetheless, the researchers insisted that with the correct formula, their hypothesis would work.
Other methods being researched include sending trillions of microbes into infected areas to eat the oil. This particular approach was used to clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While the microbes take months to actually break down the oil, they still cleaned up the vast majority of it, leaving only the largest chunks to float around in the water.
Cotton has also been suggested as an ecologically conducive means of cleaning oil spills. Its absorbing qualities make it an interesting concept, one that researchers are looking into. Another idea is the creation of special boats with abilities specific to the type of cleanup oil spills require.
Cesar Harada, a TED Senior Fellow and engineer, came up with the boat idea, and decided to open-source the design, so that others could benefit from his vision and work to clean up the next devastating oil spill quickly and efficiently.
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