Saturday, May 1, 2010

84> Leaking Oil Solution?

As you probably have noticed, I am a chronic designer/inventor. I really can’t help myself. It’s what I do. So, when I watch the news and see how royally someone is screwing something up, I naturally I ask myself what I would do. I often get aggravated sitting in traffic – hence my interest in PRT.

Last time my blog was diverted from its primary subject was after the earthquake in Haiti, when they couldn’t get food to the people who needed it. Now we are helpless as thousands of barrels of oil are released daily into the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently engineers are working on a “dome-like structure” to cover the leak, but it will take weeks to have it in place, according to BP. Dan the Blogger is NOT happy.

Structures and devices of all sorts can be broken down functionally into tension parts, compression parts, shear-strength parts, membrane parts, etc, Many highly useful things come out of designs that separate and maximize these functions though their geometry. Consider strength to weight ratio of a bicycle wheel. Or a simple bag, as opposed to a box. A tent, as opposed to a house. A balloon. An Umbrella. A suspension bridge. None start with the proposition of taking a pile of building materials and making a solution, although that is the human tendency. Welders think steel, masons think rock or brick, and carpenters think wood. The petroleum business is full of people who make tanks and pipes and valves and scaffolding. So they are welding together a solution.

In this case the remedy would seem to require establishment of a membrane separating the area directly around the source of the oil and the sea at large. This membrane would need to extend a mile from the ocean floor to the surface. This membrane would need to enclose the spill on all sides. The structure can therefore be regarded as a tube.

It is unreasonable to consider spanning the mile to the sea bottom with a solid, unyielding structure, like giant walls or something similar. We are by definition talking primarily tension. More specifically, tension between an anchoring means and floatation means.

Luckily, membrane material in very long lengths is easily available in the form of fabric, and that fabric can be folded upon itself to form a tube. With plenty of overlap, there are many glues of sufficient strength to make sewing unnecessary for open weave fabrics.

Tension members are readily available as cable or rope. Logically, then, the solution would seem to comprise the establishment of seafloor to surface cables and the attachment of fabric to it. It would also seem obvious that a cable running through any chute or tube would alleviate most destructive forces acting upon it, such as being stretched by ocean currents.


All this, to me, leads to an inevitable design conclusion. A tent is constructed with a chimney-like chute, with a cable running through it. The tent is tethered to the ocean floor, and the top of the chute is held up by floatation, first by buoys, and later, perhaps, by the comparatively light weight of the oil inside. No, it’s not as strong or permanent as steel, but it sure would be faster to deploy.

I’ll get back to PRT soon…

7 comments:

akauppi said...

Good example of American innovation.

Too bad it seems limited to blogs like yours at the moment. Any idea how to actually reach the people looking for the solutions (maybe for the next spill to come).

Maybe this is what you should be doing? :)

Bruce said...

A really exciting idea - have you mentioned it to BP? Or to the newspapers in the region? If you haven't, I think you should.

mikeconwell said...

I tweeted out and posted this article in several places. A great idea.

Also like how you can use it similar to an oil separator in the kitchen to let the oil concentrate in the top of the column, filtering out the water albeit poorly.

Would like to see the chimney extend above the water sufficiently enough to handle accumulation when pumping sources are changed or halted for short times.

So for the engineers out there, what happens when oil accumulates in a sock like this? Does it pile up above the waterline? If so, at what ratio? Articles I've seen have the oil sheen no deeper than 3mm when it's not contained.

mikeconwell said...

There's a natural gas element to the problem as well. It's possible that this is what blew up the well in the first place.

Anyway, I thought I'd further distract you with that thought. Maybe a remote burnoff stack with a fuel source for the pilot flame for when natural gas ebbs. A hose leading to a tent over your tube, and a method for creating a constant air flow through the tube.

Dan said...

Akauppi, Bruce,.. This blog is pretty much my way of communicating complex ideas in the little free time I have. I just hope someone talks to someone who talks to someone….I am also aware of the extent of my ignorance in these matters. There very well could be problems I have not considered.

Mike, I think you are right on both counts. First, I believe the specific gravity is around .8 or .85, which means it only weighs 85% of the weight of fresh water, let alone salt water. I would imagine that, if contained in a column, it would indeed be pushed up to a level well above the ocean surface level. I guess the weight of the submerged portion plus the weight of some elevated portion would equal the weight of the displaced seawater.

As far as gas goes, I would hope the diameter of the chute (especially near the surface) would be sufficient to allow bubbles to pass. A structure or structures, possibly with flare-off capability, on the surface sounds reasonable. I do not pretend to have a detailed solution here. I just know how I would begin the design process and how petroleum engineers are inclined to think, especially since they are unlikely to have ever had much experience with tension structures. There is also the matter of fear of failure, and a tendency to do the safe thing. After all, these people have their jobs, (or at least their status within the organization) at stake. On the positive side, however, everything they do will be instructive, and they will certainly look for superior alternatives at every turn. If aspects of my idea have merit, they will likely discover them on their own in the process.

Jesse said...

Subsea membrane test effort (independent)

We are working on testing a contingency system for massive flow release of oil. For further information please see:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GAmk4YgByM

Thanks,
Jesse Urban

najamonline4u said...

Simply a great idea about oil leakage solution. nice work keep it up