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Cleaning up oil spills with magnets at MIT

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Published on Sep 11, 2012

MIT researchers have developed a new technique for magnetically separating oil and water that could be used to clean up oil spills. They believe that, with their technique, the oil could be recovered for use, offsetting much of the cost of cleanup.

The researchers will present their work at the International Conference on Magnetic Fluids in January. Shahriar Khushrushahi, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is lead author on the paper, joined by Markus Zahn, the Thomas and Gerd Perkins Professor of Electrical Engineering, and T. Alan Hatton, the Ralph Landau Professor of Chemical Engineering. The team has also filed two patents on its work.

In the MIT researchers' scheme, water-repellent ferrous nanoparticles would be mixed with the oil, which could then be separated from the water using magnets. The researchers envision that the process would take place aboard an oil-recovery vessel, to prevent the nanoparticles from contaminating the environment. Afterward, the nanoparticles could be magnetically removed from the oil and reused.

Video: Melanie Gonick
Additional footage courtesy of: Shahriar Khushrushahi

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