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lingering aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a contemporary technical innovation which provides a “new method to improve the efficiency of cleaning up oil spills, using magnets” (Hall, 2012), holds significant potential. This new method is the brainchild of Markus Zahn, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, and the research team led by Shahriar Khushrushahi of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. MIT had a breakthrough in January, and unveiled its new concept in September this year, posting it as a YouTube video.
This innovation originated in Zahn’s concept that, if oil was magnetic, it could be easily separated from water using magnets. It works on the concept of magnetized fluids, or ferro-fluids. These are synthesized fluids, made up of 10 nanometer magnetic nanoparticles coated with a surfactant to stabilize it within a host liquid. They are typically water or oil based. The mixture of oil and water is collected in a restricted space. The oil is made magnetic by the addition of the magnetic nanoparticles. The magnetic oil is then separated from the water, using large magnets, giving clean water and magnetic oil. Using existing technology, the magnetic nanoparticles are removed from the oil, and the oil is recovered and recycled. (Zahn and Khushreshahi, in Hall, 2012). The concept is implemented through an arrangement of cylindrical magnets which are embedded vertically in a large tank. Globules of oil from the magnetic oil and water mixture rise above the water line and are scooped up by large magnets. (Casey, 2012).
The current methods of cleaning oil spills are of five types, each of which is attended by significant shortcomings. The first method just leaves the oil alone, letting it disperse by natural means. This has the possibility of polluting coastal regions and marine industries. The second method uses dispersants to break up the oil and accelerate its natural biodegradation. The