HANOVER, N.H. – When it comes to oil spills, efficient methods of cleanup play a vital role in mitigating damage. Researchers from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) are testing the effectiveness of a new tool aimed at cleaning up spills called the fire-boom.
Unique facilities at CRREL enable such technologies to be tested in controlled environments, allowing researchers to better understand what will happen in a real-world situation. CRREL is one of only a few facilities in the federal government with the licenses, equipment and personnel to safely perform in-situ burn testing.
“Our team here at CRREL is very experienced in working with crude oil,” said Kate Trubac, a CRREL research general engineer who oversaw the tests. “We're one of the only facilities where you can do controlled burns like this. Our expertise and the permitting that we have allows us to safely conduct these experiments in a controlled environment in hopes that we can help improve the efficiency of these systems.”
The fire-boom, composed of specially designed floating barriers, is used to prevent oil spills from moving freely across a water surface, which allows for oil spill cleanup crews to more efficiently burn oil spilled in bodies of water.
“It's a really efficient way to quickly remove large volumes of oil off the surface of the water,” said Karen Stone of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), who funded the new fire-boom research.
Stone added that after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010, in-situ burning was used to clean up much of the oil on the water. In-situ burning is a technique that involves the controlled burning of spilled oil from a vessel or facility, and when used correctly, reduces the amount of oil in the water and minimizes the adverse effect of the oil on the environment.
“What we're testing is a unique system that takes fire-boom technology that's already in the inventories for the oil spill response organizations, and we're just reconfiguring what is already there,” Stone said. “We have a boom system that's in the shape of a wine glass, the cup of that wine glass actually is what is gathering the oil and getting it thick enough. There's a gate in between there at the back of that boom.”
The fire-boom system was designed and developed by Elastec, a provider of oil spill response equipment. The system has two parts, one that is pulled by small boats to gather spilled oil; the second is a configuration of fire-booms where the oil is ignited.
“One of the negative effects of this method is that there's a large black plume of smoke as a result of the burning,” said Stone.
During the tests on the fire-boom at CRREL’s Hanover, New Hampshire laboratory, the Environmental Protection Agency was present, flying unmanned aerial systems equipped with measuring devices into the smoke plumes to gather data on the smoke and measure the effectiveness of the burn.
“We're learning a lot about the gas monitoring in the plume to characterize what components are coming out of the smoke and how effective these burns actually are,” Trubac said.
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