IfM proposed to help with crude oil clean-up

Jul 15, 2010 | Engineering and Science, General News, Research and Development

Several Louisiana Tech faculty members working at the Institute for Micromaufacturing have presented a variety of scientific studies to aid in the concentrated effort to clean up the oil spill along the Gulf Coast.
IfM professors prepared these solutions in order to have an appropriate response to present to state government.
Dr. Les Guice, vice president for research and development, said the information was volunteered by the university.
“I was very pleased that our faculty and center directors initiated the development of these white pages and organized them in a nice package,” Guice said. “We have outstanding faculty who are always exploring how their research can be directly applied to the needs of Louisiana and the nation. I believe our faculty is much better at this than at most universities.”
Tech decided to assist with finding a solution to this crisis, and a team of more than 25 IfM researchers have highlighted 15 potential resolutions.
As stated on, the petroleum supplier has received thousands of ideas for technologies to tackle the oil spill.
Guice said all of the project ideas have been forwarded to BP and the government through various channels.
“I am sure that it is difficult for [BP] to evaluate and respond to those,” Guice said. “We have encouraged our faculty to submit proposals directly to the National Science Foundation and other agencies that have processes in place to review proposals and award grants.”
Dr. Tabbetha Dobbins, an assistant professor of physics in the IfM, said one of the more promising outputs, developed by Erez Allouche, a civil engineering professor; and Sven Eklund, a chemistry professor, includes the employment of eco-reef geopolymer structures, which will serve as a regenerable, porous coastal barrier for oil absorption.
Dobbins and Eklund have come up with another possible solution: to manufacture a low-cost oil-water separation unit that will break down the crude oil, enabling it to be extracted from the water.
Dobbins said that heavy crude oil is difficult to capture.
“The crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico requires low cost, easily implemented technologies for separation of oil-water mixtures,” Dobbins said. “Not simply burning the top layer of crude oil.”
One other suggestion, as developed by Patrick Hindmarsh, Yuri Voziyanov and Jeffrey Yule, all biological science professors, is to produce microorganisms which will digest the petroleum, converting it into a product which is less hazardous to the environment; this is known as bioremediation.
Dobbins said there is not yet any funding for these projects and none of them have been put into action yet. It has been community support which has made many of the experiments possible so far.
However, Guice said the basic research that has enabled IfM faculty to develop the foundation for the proposals has been funded by various federal agencies, the state and the university.
Guice said, “We will continue to work with our faculty to secure funding for their research and consider how they may contribute to protecting Louisiana’s environment.”
By Crystal McCants