By February 13, 2015 Read More →

Oil spill response gets boost from Imbibitive absorbent technology

Imbiber Beads may be just what industry needs for oil spill response in face of environmental opposition

A technology to clean up oil spills is slow taking off in Canada, despite ever higher public concern about pipeline oil spill response, but the makers of Imbiber Beads hope that situation is about to change.

oil spill response

John Brinkman, CEO of Imbibitive Technologies Corp.

Imbiber Beads are tiny plastic spheres – about the size of a grain of salt – that absorb over 1,000 organic chemicals, including oil. When the beads come into contact with oil, they swell to up to 27 times their original volume.

John Brinkman, CEO of Welland, Ontario-based Imbibitive Technologies Corp., discovered the technology at a trade show in 1987, licensed it, and launched his company in 1994.

While the company has grown steadily over the past 20 years and now counts the American military and many oil companies south of the border as its clients, Imbiber Beads have been slow to catch on in the Western Canadian oil patch.

Oil spill response has been a major issue for British Columbia environmental groups and First Nations opposing the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain pipeline projects. The 10 to 15 per cent recovery rate for marine spills using traditional recovery techniques – skimmers and absorbent materials – is often cited as a reason for not building the new pipelines.

oil spill response

Absorbed Diluted Bitumen from the surface of water. The IMBIBER BEADS® turned the Dilbit from a liquid into a semi-solid (similar to a hamburg patty) which can easily be removed from the surface of water.

But Brinkman says recovery rates with Imbiber Beads are closer to 75 per cent or higher. The best comparison to illustrate how the beads work is the super absorbents found in a disposable baby diaper.

“Those polymers are water sensitive. The liquid diffuses into the polymer, causing it to swell, [which is] evidence of the integration of the water into the polymer solid matrix,” said Brinkman in an interview with Beacon Energy News.

But Imbiber Beads are oil-sensitive only and won’t absorb water – a big advantage for spill response in a marine environment.

Unlike other spill response absorbent materials, when the beads absorb oil they turn it into a solid state so that it can’t be re-released, according to Brinkman. This avoids further contaminating the response area and creating greater safety and environmental hazards.

oil spill response

Fully absorbed IMBIBER BEADS® cracked into pieces showing once a liquid has been absorbed it cannot be re-released as a liquid.

“The reduction in surface area drastically reduces the rate at which explosive and toxic vapours are released. Fundamentally different than what’s currently being used out on the marketplace,” Brinkman said.

Given the political opposition faced by Canadian pipeline projects, one would expect energy companies to beat a path to Imbibitive’s door, but that hasn’t been the case. Brinkman says the oil and gas industry can be slow to adopt game-changing technologies. Recent conversations with Enbridge and Kinder Morgan, however, give him hope that Imbiber Beads are on the verge of a breakthrough in the Canadian industry.

“The fact that the industry is now turning more and more to disposal technologies, in this case dispersant, to me is testimony that the industry has lost faith in mechanical recovery,” he said.

“If you’re willing to put detergent into the water to try and break up the slick, to lessen the impact of the oil coming to shore, it suggests that mechanical recovery techniques and equipment simply aren’t up to the task.”

The post Oil spill response gets boost from Imbibitive absorbent technology appeared first on Beacon Energy News.

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