Researchers working at the Kaunas Technology University (KTU) in Lithuania have recently developed a wastewater treatment technology with proven efficacy in cleaning water used during oil industry operations and bringing it back into line with regulatory standards for general re-use. This is excellent news, given the amount of hydrocarbon pollution currently being discharged into the marine environment. The KTU process is based on using certain micro-organisms – which are difficult to cultivate and retain – to absorb hydrocarbons from the water and transform them into CO2 and H2O. The process is nevertheless fairly simple and relatively inexpensive. The KTU solution, which enables 160 cubic meters of water per hour to be purified, has been successfully tested by Lithuanian oil and gas terminal specialist Klaipedos Nafta and is now ready to be deployed at oil refineries and also car-wash establishments and may in the near future be used in other sectors such as agriculture and food processing. Meanwhile, as more and more technology inventors are turning to bioengineering and biomimicry, a research team at the University of Southern California has drawn inspiration from a floating fern native to South America called Salvinia molesta, coupled with the use of 3D printing, to develop a range of artificial materials with strong hydrophobic properties, which are able to separate oil and water. These two ground-breaking solutions, invented at academic research institutes thousands of kilometers apart, have the potential to help clean up the oceans, thus safeguarding our planet and preserving a large number of living species that may be seriously endangered by the sort of incident that occurred last month in Colombia. A leak from a defunct oil well found its way into theMagdalena river, killing more than 2,400 animals of different species and damaging over 1,000 tree species.
By Marie-Eléonore Noiré