BP has failed at its numerous attempts to stop the growing Gulf oil spill, which has now reached delicate wetlands around the Mississippi River. And while the oil company has managed to slow the spill slightly with a mile-long underwater pipe bringing oil to a drill ship, the environmental catastrophe is still growing. We've already suggested some options to clean up the spill—oil-skimming supertankers and hair-based booms, for example—but the Gulf coast can use all the creative help it can get.
One innovative solution comes from actor Kevin Costner, who has been developing oil separation machines through a private company for the past 15 years. According to the New York Times, Costner was reportedly inspired to invest $24 million in the technology after witnessing the devastation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Waterworld star's "Ocean Therapy" machine separates out oil from water, stores the oil in a tanker, and sends purified water back into the ocean. The largest machines can separate out 210,000 gallons of oil from water each day or 200 gallons per minute. The technology is promising enough that BP has approved six Ocean Therapy machines for testing. We wonder if it could work in tandem with supertankers that can collect oil and bring it back to shore for separation.
Another potential oil-gathering technology comes from AbTech Industries. The company's Smart Sponge system can absorbs up to ten times its weight in hydrocarbons and turn them into a solid form for easy recycling. The solid won't release oil even under extreme pressure. AbTech first brought the technology to oil companies in the late 1990s, to no avail. But now BP is reportedly paying attention—a smart move considering that AbTech's sponge tech has successfully been used by cities around the world to clean up run-off pollution.
If BP doesn't go for Smart Sponge, it might want to look into hay. Seriously. Hay—like hair—is excellent at soaking up oil. The idea comes from CW Roberts Contracting. Check out just how surprisingly effective it is in the video below.
BP will also have to think of a better chemical dispersant solution than the one currently being used, and fast—the EPA has informed the company that it has 24 hours to find a less toxic solution than Corexit. May we suggest Dispersit? The dispersant is both less toxic and more effective than Corexit.
FastCompany.com readers have provided us with a number of creative solutions. Martin Massinger suggests, "Why not wrap a heavy-duty inflatable bladder around a smaller diameter pipe, then insert it into the fractured pipe? Inflate the bladder and do what you will with the oil." And Rene Beland offers up this suggestion: "To collect the oil, they need to bring it to the surface in one location so they can contain it and pump it in the vessels. I suggest they build a large screen or mesh pipe to guide the oil to the surface. The water surrounding the mesh will create a natural barrier preventing the oil from flowing freely and would reach the surface in one location." If you're listening, BP, our readers have many more ideas where those came from. It's worth taking a look at InnoCentive's call for oil spill solutions, too. A note to BP and the US government: it would really help if we could get some accurate data on the size of this thing.