A common byproduct from the oil refinery and extraction process is contaminated water. The water is deemed unusable by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leading to a lot of waste.
Removing all traces
Although some commercial treatments exist, they are costly, energy-intensive and, most importantly, do not remove all contaminants. Now, Purdue University researchers have developed a novel process they claim removes "nearly all traces of oil in produced water."
"This is a simple, clean and inexpensive treatment process," said Ashreet Mishra, a graduate research assistant at the Purdue University Northwest Water Institute. "I have seen in my home country of India how people suffer for the want of pure water, and we as researchers need to do as much as we can to help."
The treatment makes use of activated charcoal foam that is subjected to solar light. This, in turn, produces heats allowing the foam to absorb the oil contaminants from the water.
The result is not only water that meets EPA's standards for cleanliness from industrial sources but also recoverable oil. The novel foam allows up to 95 percent of the oil that was absorbed to be recovered for use.
"This is the first-of-its kind method to do this purification in a single step simultaneously via a perforated foam," Mishra said.
"Our process is able to address the cost and energy aspects of the problem."
Integrated into existing systems
Furthermore, the researchers argue the process could be integrated with existing disposal systems. This would allow some of the about 2.5 billion gallons of produced water that is generated each day in the United States to be purified. It would also decrease the current stress on water grids.
The researchers are now working with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the treatment process.