Friday, April 27, 2012

Simple Appliances Could Change the World

Blenders, stockpots and dryers have their separate uses in the home. But would you believe that the future of the environment and foreign oil dependency could be influenced by these simple appliances?

Dr. Ben de Mayo, physics professor at UWG, shows an example of his work with oil sands.
University of West Georgia professor Dr. Ben de Mayo received a patent from Canada for a new oil-acquiring system. He envisions the final product will resemble a blender spanning 60 feet across and standing several stories tall. It will function like a clothes dryer and utilize heat and rapid spinning to separate bitumen, an unrefined crude oil, from oil sands.

Currently bitumen is extracted from the sand through a method that de Mayo deems unclean and inefficient. Imagine a giant stockpot of boiling water. The oil-rich sand is dumped into the pot and then sinks to the bottom while the oil floats to the top.

Afterward, the oil is skimmed from the surface of the water like fat from boiled chicken, leaving behind a toxic broth that is dumped into man-made lakes. These highly polluted ponds have the unfortunate side effect of attracting wildlife.

The system de Mayo devised can be best described as a large-scale dryer. The funnel-shaped object would spin the heated sand at rapid speeds and separate the bitumen.

“The idea was so simple I thought someone would have done it already,” said de Mayo. “I looked and I couldn’t find anything on it, so I called a patent lawyer.”

His experimentation with the technique utilized a 3300-rpm centrifuge, a machine used for spinning objects at high speeds. First he heats the oil sand before adding it to the centrifuge, where it spins rapidly for about an hour. The end result renders 80 percent of the bitumen from the sand.

“I’d like to see [oil companies] adopt this method because it’s cleaner and could benefit places like Utah that don’t have a lot of water,” he said.

The current process takes more fuel to produce than it actually yields. The de Mayo process requires 75 percent less energy and no water. Because of the lower energy requirements, the device would also decrease the production of green house gases. The absence of water used in the process would nullify water pollution caused as a result of the current method.

The device can also separate oil from water, making it an ideal way to handle an oil spill. The next step for de Mayo is to allocate funding for an engineer and test model. The larger-scale model is projected to be the size of a washing machine. He is expecting to hear a decision from the United States patent office in the next three to four months.

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