Oil spills are a major catastrophe to human and marine life, the most infamous of all being the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the gulf of Mexico that started in 2010, which leaked for 2 years and caused several billions of dollars of damage. This oil spill has deteriorated the populations of marine life in the gulf, and caused local fishing industries to go bankrupt. While these incidents could be prevented by avoiding human error, accidents still happen, so instead, governments are counting on early detection techniques to catch an oil spill just at the moment it starts. These means however, are very expensive, and require aircrafts and satellites, so not everybody can afford them. That’s where this Spanish research team comes in: They have developed a small and inexpensive device that can detect five different types of oils in water using light.
How did they do this? Well, when crude or refined oil absorbs UV light, it emits a unique fluorescence pattern. This pattern could be used as a “fingerprint” to detect the oil and identify it by comparing its fluorescence pattern to those in a database.
This technique isn’t new, as there are other instruments that use spectrometers to detect such patterns. Spectrometers are delicate and expensive though, and this is where the biggest difference lies: The team uses a simple and low-cost setup that involves four photodiode detectors with different colors of cellophane film filters. This allows the team to record 4 different signals, each for the different ends of the fluorescence spectrum. They also used normal UV LEDs as a light source as well as a microcontroller similar to those used in drones. It also has a radio module within it to send and receive data and configuration commands.
The next step is to test this device in a natural environment. To do this, the researchers plan to use a solar powered prototype which can be left in a body of water and operate on its own for several months. They are also working on having the device detect the fluorescence fingerprints of more common kinds of oils.
Source: Science Daily
“Fast detection of a spill is crucial for a quick antipollution response to avoid, as much as possible, the progressive mixture of the oil into the water, which would make cleaning more difficult and inefficient,” Says Jose R. Salgueiro, head of the research team at the Universidade de Vigo. “Our device could help keep better track and control of pollution, especially by detecting potential pollution sources” He adds. “Once the pollution is produced it will help to quickly detect the problem, identify the nature of the pollution and contribute to a better response.”.