UGI proposes Mexican Gulf clean-up plan

2 min read

BP’s clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico over the last two months have left an oil slick the size of Luxembourg, but one British cleantech company claims it has a plan to capture most of the floating oil in six weeks.

With help from the Commercial Fishermen of America and US volunteer groups, Brighton-based Ultra Green International (UGI) is deploying a fleet of 168 fishing boats towing technology platforms specifically designed to remove the oil threatening the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and the waters around the Deepwater Horizon well, and transfer it to specially chartered tankers.

At the heart of the clean-up effort is an innovative membrane that is both oleophilic and hydrophilic, meaning it soaks up oil and water. The membrane, which was developed by UGI’s science partner Algaeventure Systems (AVS) in the US, acts like blotting paper in attracting oil that can then be released only by mechanical pressure.

The team has designed a 21m roller system to be mounted on towed platforms that will draw oil out of the water using belts of membrane at the rate of at least 25,000 gallons a day per boat.

It will then be pressed out of the membrane and siphoned into marine bladders that can be towed away to waiting tankers. Significant marine and oil-spill safety features have been built into the system, which is designed to recover the oil from the surface of the Mexican Gulf down to 1.5m − the depth that encompasses the most damaging oil. The aim is to prevent the oil from reaching the coast and transfer it from the platforms to floating bladders before loading it on to conventional oil tankers.

UGI called on US manufacturer Park Ohio to set aside a new computer-driven robotic production plant to build the roller system arrays that will be fitted to the floating platforms and towed by locally based working boats.

The UGI logistics team includes David Weaver, former managing director of BP Northern Europe Gas, Power and Renewables, and an expert in oil-spill clear-up, who said in a statement that the group does not want to be viewed as stepping on BP’s toes in the clean-up effort.

‘We hope that BP appreciates the fact that we are trying to help them,’ he said. ‘The losses they are facing are catastrophic and we have all seen the impact on their share price. I know from the inside that they are bureaucratic, which is why they are so slow, but BP knows only too well that damage to the environment and the local economy increases every day and will be magnified appallingly if it is not dealt with before the first hurricane.’

In a statement issued today, BP said that over 4,500 vessels and 100 aircraft are now engaged in the response effort.

Operations to skim oil from the surface of the water are said to have recovered approximately 610,000 barrels (25.6 million gallons) of oily liquid.