Motivated by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, MIT Professor Markus Zahn, along with postdoctoral researcher Shahrian Khushrushian and Professor T. Allen Hutton, invented a method of separating oil from water using magnets. Current techniques for removing oil from water sometimes remove as little as 50% of the oil. Zahn hopes to improve upon that.
His invention is to be housed on a ship that travels to the sight of the oil spill. A skimmer collects a mixture of oil and water and pumps it onto the ship. Next, hydrophobic, magnetic nanoparticles are added to the mixture. The nanoparticles adhere to the oil in the mixture, making the oil magnetic. The magnetic oil solution is known as a ferroliquid.
The mixture of water and ferroliquid is then pumped through a magnetic device which separates the water from the ferroliquid. This process is repeated until the water and ferroliquid have been adequately separated. Clean water is returned to the ocean
The ferroliquid is then processed to remove the magnetic nanoparticles from the solution. This process is repeated until the oil and nanoparticles are adequately separated. The magnetic nanoparticles can be reused. The oil is stored in a tank on the ship and could ultimately be refined and used.
While we would hope that Professor Zahn’s invention does not need to be used, we cannot deny that it is a dazzling new invention. The device is currently in the very beginning stages of development. Zahn et. al. have filed two patents and plan to present their work at the International Conference on Magnetic Fluids in January 2013.Water and Oil Separation,