In 2012, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon well blew, Elastec/American Marine – founded by Donnie Wilson and Jeff Cantrell – was called to help with the clean-up. The company’s skimmers were no match for the 56 000-barrels-a-day gusher.
So to keep up with the spill, Wilson’s crew used floating booms to corral surface oil and burn it. Watching all that petroleum go up in smoke inspired him and his company to develop a high-volume drum skimmer that could collect more oil, rather than wasting it.
The Deepwater spill also moved Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, to create an X Prize offering $1 million (about R8 million) to the first team to recover 2 500 gallons (9 463 litres) of oil a minute from a test slick with an efficiency of 70 per cent (that is, no more than 30 per cent of the liquid collected could be water).
Wilson accelerated Elastec/American Marine’s R&D efforts, and within 16 months of the X Prize announcement, the company had developed a new grooved disc skimmer that won the prize and shattered the competition requirements, collecting 17 677 litres a minute with nearly 90 per cent efficiency.
Elastec/American Marine hopes to have units ready to deploy by the end of this year.
Watch a video showing how the team developed the technology that earned them first place in the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE…
The Grooved Disc Oil Skimmer was recognised in PM’s 2012 Breakthrough Awards – an annual competition where we salute the greatest innovations. Get your hands on PM’s Dec ’12 issue – on sale on 19 November – to find out about the best bold ideas of 2012.