This article appeared in Fermilab Today on July 30, 2014.
Fermilab physicist Arden Warner revolutionizes oil spill cleanup with magnetizable oil invention. Photo: Hanae Armitage
Four years ago, Fermilab accelerator physicist Arden Warner watched national news of the BP oil spill and found himself frustrated with the cleanup response.
“My wife asked ‘Can you separate oil from water?’ and I said ‘Maybe I could magnetize it!’” Warner recalled. “But that was just something I said. Later that night while I was falling asleep, I thought, you know what, that’s not a bad idea.”
Sleep forgone, Warner began experimenting in his garage. With shavings from his shovel, a splash of engine oil and a refrigerator magnet, Warner witnessed the preliminary success of a concept that could revolutionize the process of oil spill damage control.
Warner has received patent approval on the cleanup method.
The concept is simple: Take iron particles or magnetite dust and add them to oil. It turns out that these particles mix well with oil and form a loose colloidal suspension that floats in water. Mixed with the filings, the suspension is susceptible to magnetic forces. At a barely discernible 2 to 6 microns in size, the particles ...