What is an oil solidifier?
Oil solidifiers are composed of dry, high molecular weight polymers that have a porous matrix and large oleophilic (strong affinity for oil rather than water) surface area. Upon contact with oil, the oil solidifiers form a physical bond with the oil. The result is that the oil’s viscosity increases to the point that the oil solidifies into a rubber-like solid that is non-toxic and floats on water. The end product can range from a firm cohesive mass to a non-cohesive granular material. Oil solidifiers exist in various forms, including dry powder, granules, semi-solid materials (e.g. pucks, cakes, balls, sponge designs), and contained in booms, pillows, pads, and socks.
How do oil solidifiers work?
Oil solidifiers are polymers that have a physical attraction to hydrocarbons (oil, gasoline, etc.) that is caused by Van de Waal’s forces. They consist of long chains of hydrocarbons that have a loose molecular structure and a very porous matrix. They increase the viscosity of the oil to the point that it forms a solid mass.
Solidification time is primarily controlled by grain size (and thus surface area) of the product. Solidification time varies from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the viscosity of the oil. Fine-grained powders solidify faster than granules because of higher surface area on the product and higher diffusion rate of the oil.
Once oil is solidified, it is very easy to manage and remove with simple tools such as rakes, shovels and nets. The solidified oil can be recycled for use in asphalt or various other industrial applications.
What are the advantages of oil solidifiers compared to traditional cleanup methods?
Traditional oil spill cleanup methods such as vacuum trucks and skimmers are very expensive and require a lot of manpower. The cleanup process is often slow, and transporting water for processing is often needed.
Solidified oil does not need any processing afterwards. It can be recycled, reused in various industrial applications, or disposed of in landfills depending on local regulations.
Solidifiers are non-toxic and float on water. They are not harmful to animals, humans or the environment. They are very cost effective, up to 80% compared to traditional cleanup methods.
Why are oil solidifiers not more in common use?
The typical response when asked this question is that a regulatory person generally addresses cost and availability. When cost is mentioned, because of lack of experience and knowledge, the responsible party or on-scene coordinator is only addressing material cost, not overall cost, including labor and water processing afterwards.
On-site availability is an issue because of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restrictions that don’t allow a responsible party to react to an oil spill until an on-scene coordinator has arrived to the site. Pre-approval by Regional Response Teams (RRT) is needed for the responsible party to be able to respond using solidifiers (in loose form) during a time-sensitive situation – and all spills are time sensitive.
Pre-approvals have to be obtained per RRT region by the manufacturer of the oil solidifier product. There are thirteen RRT regions, and each region requires its own testing and application process. The application process per region is very lengthy, and the product is eventually approved in that region only. It is not submitted on a national level. This forms a huge barrier for companies that want to introduce new and improved technologies on a national scale.
Where can I find technical studies and case studies on oil solidifiers?
Effectiveness of Solidifiers – Ali Ghalambor, Ph.D, P.E. (University of Southwestern Louisiana)
Solidifiers for Oil Spill Response