spills,” Melton says. “I’m just hoping he can
produce a lot of them because right now the
price point is too high for me to jump in.”
Kennedy began dabbling with oil cleanup
after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, though
he didn’t fully dedicate himself to design-
ing his system until the Wendy Schmidt Oil
Cleanup X Challenge, which was inspired by
the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
Despite feeling that regulations like the
Oil Spill Act of 1990 (a response to the Exxon
Valdez spill) stifle innovation, Kennedy has
persevered. The self-taught engineer with a
background in commercial fishing applied
his understanding of dragging nets to catch
fish to the problem of oil spills as he developed PPR Otter systems.
His patented net design creates a high-pressure system on one side of the net and
low-pressure system on the other, allowing
the equipment to round up oil while moving
at a rate of 2 to 3 knots. However, once the
net stops moving, the oil all comes out, which
leads to the second phase of the project: oil
“Why are we trying to lift it out of the water? Why don’t we put in a vacuum and suck
it out of the water?” Kennedy asked himself,
noticing that the oil in the net started spinning in a circle—similar to how water moves
after flushing a toilet. It was an ideal situation
for vacuuming oil out of the water.
Though this system was efficient, Kennedy
was convinced he could do better—and he
was right. By emptying the oil-water mixture into a vacuum chamber at a pressure of
26 mercury or higher—the point that water
boils, but not oil—he was able to vaporize the
water, separating it from the oil.
Last year, the PPR Otter Pup went through
an American Society for Testing and Materials
(ASTM) testing process, through which the US
Coast Guard (USCG) essentially approved the
system to be used for oil spill cleanup. The skimmer scored a rating within the margin of error
of 100 percent efficiency, Kennedy says. For perspective, many top skimmers in the world have
efficiency rates much closer to 20 percent.
“[USCG approval] now allows people to
start listing this and putting these skimmers
into their oil response plans; it becomes a us-
able tool,” Kennedy says. “I am producing it
now. So, I developed it, designed it, tested it,
and now we’re producing it. And, it’s all be-
ing done in Alaska—start to finish.”
Because of the vacuum chamber, the sys-
tem is also capable of dealing with some types
of ice, making it a viable solution under cer-
tain circumstances in the coastal waters along
the North Slope and other Arctic regions.
“It’s portable, it’s efficient... it operates in
an icy climate and it’s scalable. If you want
something that does 1,000 gallons a minute, I
can build it for you,” Kennedy says.
Drones and Infrared
Skimmer technology itself may not be advancing by leaps and bounds outside of Kennedy’s project; however, there are other innovative approaches to oil spill response. Sarah
Moore, a preparedness and response section
manager at the Department of Environmental
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