Prince William Sound OSRI

Oil spill problem solved by Solver with no experience in oil or recovery

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The Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) is housed at the Prince William Sound Science Center, a non-profit research and education organisation located in Alaska. OSRI was established in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The main focus of OSRI is to identify and develop the best techniques, equipment and materials for dealing with oil spills in the Artic and sub-Artic marine environment.

By 2007, in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there were still over 120,000 liters of oil trapped in the Alaskan coastline and surrounding seas. In need of creative solutions to respond to the pervasive problem, the OSRI ran a number of challenges with InnoCentive, to benefit from out-of-the-box solutions tailored to the needs of the problem.

“If it was easily solved by people within the industry, it would have been solved by people within the industry. The InnoCentive process allows us to step outside of the box.”

Scott Pegau
Research Program Manager, OSRI

The Challenge

  • The ‘Breaking the Viscous Shear of Crude Oil’ Challenge sought to clean-up after Exxon Valdez oil spill in harsh remote conditions.
  • A method to separate oil from water was needed; specifically, oil that had solidified into a viscous mass with frozen water in recovery barges.
  • The method had to allow a 1000-gallon enclosed metal tank to be pumped empty within half an hour and the oil had to be able to flow 4 meters to the intake of the pump at the bottom of the tank.

The Solutions

  • The winner had no previous experience in oil or recovery.
  • The solution came from John Davis, who had studied chemistry at Illinois State and Notre Dame and at one point worked in construction as a summer job.
  • Davis proposed a common construction industry technique learned from his summer job that vibrates concrete to keep it liquid during large projects.
  • The relatively basic method was adapted to oil barges by inserting metal poles attached to the equipment into the oil which kept it in a fluid transferable state.

The Results

  • The solution and expertise of the Solver supported Scott Pegau’s notion that if it could be solved within the oil industry it would have been.
  • The vibration method had a similar effect on oil as it did with concrete.
  • A Fundamental 20-year-old problem solved in only two months, for a $20,000 award.

All four Challenges run by OSRI were solved, resulting in next generation oil recovery technology, and InnoCentive Solvers were awarded.

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