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Posted 1/27/2017

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By Marie Darling
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Public Affairs

Researchers with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory recently worked with environmental companies to test a novel prototype system in support of oil spill cleanup in open cold water conditions.

CRREL Researchers Nate Lamie and Leonard Zabilansky partnered with researchers from DESMI Ro-Clean and SL Ross Environmental Research Ltd., developers of the combination herder/igniter system, to test an aerial oil herding and ignition system to be used for oil spill response in open water. The system is being funded by the International Oil and Gas Producers’ Joint Industry Programme.

Testing, which was conducted over five days, was hosted at CRREL’s Geophysical Research Facility, a 60-foot-long by 22-foot-wide by 7-foot-deep concrete basin. The basin was exposed to the natural environment by retraction of its refrigerated roof. Next to the basin, a boom truck was positioned with an extendable 30-foot boom raising the prototype igniter over the basin to predetermined heights for a series of drop ignition tests. Each test “spill” consisted of five gallons of Alaska North Slope crude oil. Chemical agents, herders, were used to herd the oil slick to the required thickness and area.

A cardboard “mailing” tube, 3-inches in diameter, contains the igniter/herder system with the arming and timing circuit, flare and a nine-volt battery that is surrounded by foam for buoyancy. The tube is loaded into the hopper, a mechanism that looks like a mini horizontal escalator, which is attached to the boom. The hopper can hold up to 15 tubes. The loaded boom is placed over the basin, it is then extended to the designated height and the tube is then “dropped” from the extended boom. As the tube lands, it’s all about timing – the herding agent deploys and then the igniter flares burning the herded oil slick.

“Within one minute and 50 seconds, the igniter flare takes flame and with it a very efficient burn of the oil,” said Lamie, a CRREL electronic engineer.

During testing variables such as drop distance, effective herding and ignition time were verified.

“We have been able to identify challenges with the timing circuit and deployment system with the hopper at a height of 15 and 30 feet. We have had had success on all fronts,” said Ian Buist, a researcher with SL Ross Environmental Research Ltd.

CRREL has been working in partnership with OGP during the past 10 years providing extreme cold environments facilities to support the cleanup of oil spills in Arctic and other cold environments.

“We appreciate working with you guys [CRREL researchers],” said Peter Lane, DESMI Ro-Clean. “There are not a lot of places that can do this type of work.”

This research supports USACE’s mission for environmental stewardship and ERDC’s goal of innovative solutions for a safer, better world.