Thanks to the work of Dr. Victoria Broje and Elastec/American Marine, the efforts to clean-up the catastrophic 2010 Gulf Oil Spill had an important new tool to work with – the Groovy Drum Skimmer.
While studying in Norway, Broje noticed the drum skimmers used to recover spilled oil from the water’s surface weren’t very efficient. No one could tell her what kind of research and development had been done. “People tend not to look forward,” says Broje. “They don’t want to spend money if there’s only a remote risk of an oil spill.” This prompted her to pursue doctoral studies at UC Santa Barbara to improve technologies for oil spill cleanup.
At UCSB, Broje received a fellowship to study the adhesion of oil to various materials and surface patterns. “Skimmers were developed more than several decades ago,” explains Broje. She looked at modern polymers and found that hydrocarbon based rubbers and an innovative triangular grooved surface pattern pick up more oil than conventional drum skimmers.
Broje’s research was highly successful. “Our results showed we could recover up to three times more oil with the grooved drums than with traditional smooth drums,” said Broje. The grooved drums maintain their efficiency with diverse water conditions and oil types, and can also be used in other industrial applications and in food processing.
In 2006, Elastec/American Marine, a leader in oil spill recovery equipment, teamed with UCSB to translate Dr. Broje’s innovation into a commercially viable oceanic oil skimmer. The result was the Groovy Drum Skimmer, which has been sold in over 20 countries around the world and was on the scene in the Gulf to aid clean-up efforts.
In 2011, Elastec created a prototype based on the UCSB grooved design that won the Wendy Schmidt Oil Clean-Up X Challenge. 350 teams entered the competition and 10 finalists were selected to test their prototypes at OHMSETT, the National oil spill response test facility. The minimum prize-worthy recovery level was set at 2,500 gallons per minute, which is more than double the industry standard, with a 70% efficiency rate (meaning that the recovered liquid could contain no more than 30% water). Elastec’s grooved prototype shattered previous industry standards and the XPrize minimums, recovering a phenomenal 4,670 gallons per minute with an unprecedented 89.5% efficiency.