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Remote-controlled boat to remove oil spills

The world’s first unmanned oil spill boat has been shown to the environmental authorities and future customers in California.

The technology was developed at Norwegian research institute SINTEF and commercialised through the spinoff company Blue Impact AS.

The six-meter boat looks like a racer boat, but is something completely different: It’s the world’s first unmanned oilseed ship.

The catamaran drives back and forth over the oil spill and pulverises the oil into small biodegradable particles, using high pressure water jets.

“In this way, the oil particles dissolve and become part of nature’s cycle,” says former SINTEF researcher, and now the entrepreneur of Blue Impact AS, Stein Erik Sørstrøm. Blue Impact has worldwide patents on this technology.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has tested the company’s method of removing oil leaking from the ocean floor outside of Santa Barbara.

Along the coast of California, petroleum is naturally dissipated, and every year it produces oil spills corresponding to emissions from a large oil tanker. In this area, using chemicals to remove oil spills is not allowed.

“If California ever gets an oil spill, I hope we can use this technology,” said Judd Muskat, who works for the environmental authorities in California, in a video created by Blue Impact.

“This was our first major test for whether mechanical dispersion will work, not only in theory but also in practice,” said Karl Nevland, co-founder of Blue Impact, and Field Operations Manager in California.

The US Coast Guard, National Environmental Authorities and Private Oil Recovery Organisations were also present during the test.

SINTEF still plays an important role in the process of taking environmentally friendly technology to the world: The investment fund SINTEF Venture owns Blue Impact AS, and in addition the research foundation provides knowledge and support.

NOFO, Coastal Administration, Norway’s Research Council and Innovation Norway have also contributed funding.

The Trondheim company, Maritime Robotics, has developed the instrumentation on the unmanned boat.
Like drones in the ocean

Most oil spills are small, and the need is greatest in coastal waters – not on the open sea. It is also the intention that more boats will operate together. They could then be used as a coordinated device, almost like drones.

The equipment can be easily transported by car trailer or a helicopter, and used where there has been oil spill. The advantage that the ships are unmanned is first and foremost that personnel should not be exposed to oil spill oils.

“Another advantage is that unmanned vessels can be used in risk areas to a greater extent than a manned vessel, and may, in theory, be operational 24 hours a day, according to Sørstrøm.

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