Planet Earth

BP to Kevin Costner: We'll Take 32 of Your Oil Clean-up Machines

80beatsBy Joseph CalamiaJun 15, 2010 3:17 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Can Kevin Costner's centrifuge--a device to separate oil from water at up to 200 gallons per minute--clean up the Deep Horizon spill? We reported on Costner's clean-up gadget back in May when he convinced the Coast Guard and BP to test his technology, and now comes news that BP has ordered 32 of Costner's devices to try out in the Gulf. It sure makes for easy reporting; Costner's handsome mug is certainly more appealing than oil-soaked sea life. But what are the actual chances that the actor's device will work? Costner seems to recognize how implausible it all sounds:

"It may seem an unlikely scenario that I am the one delivering this technology in this moment in time," Kevin Costner said (see ABC video below) in a congressional committee meeting. "But from where I'm sitting, it's equally inconceivable that these machines are not already in place." [CNN]

As described in last week's testimony before the House Committee on Science and Technology, Costner bought the patent for the basic technology behind his centrifuge 15 years ago and has since spent $20 million to develop it with the company he founded, Ocean Therapy Solutions. BP will test the V20 model, a version that has about a five square foot base, weighs around 4,500 lbs, and costs (according to The Los Angeles Times) $500,000. Costner developed the device after the Exxon Valdez spill.

Costner was inspired to create something that would separate water from oil after watching the devastation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989 and from his work on notorious box office bomb Waterworld. If the OTS machine saves our asses from oil, we'll have to cut Costner a break and go back to picking on Ishtar. [Gawker]

As explained in a video demonstration on his company's site, the centrifuge takes in polluted water and spins it in a cylinder. The denser water moves to the outside of the cylinder and the oil stays on the inside. Costner's company claims that the water coming out will be 99 percent pure. Ocean Therapy Solutions includes scientific adviser Eric M.V. Hoek, a chemical and environmental engineer who works on nanomaterials and membrane technology at UCLA. Though BP's initial tests of the device earlier this year reportedly fell short, with the machines failing to separate large clumps of oil and producing a peanut-butter consistency of oil after separation, Costner claims that some tweaks have fixed this problem. BP is also "confident" and "excited":

"We were confident the technology would work but we needed to test it at the extremes. We've done that and are excited by the results," said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer. "We are very pleased with the results and today we have placed a significant order with OTS [Costner's Ocean Therapy Solutions] and will be working with them to rapidly manufacture and deploy 32 of their machines." [ABC]

Still, it's easy to be cynical. Twenty million dollars in research doesn't seem like much when compared to the purported $1.6 billion that BP has already spent in its efforts (figure from latest BP press release), and one wonders if it's too easy to confuse the actor's fame with oil clean-up expertise. Why didn't more-qualified problem solvers come up with this solution first? But if Costner's device can really do what it claims, it will outperform current technology--skimmers which pick up 90 percent water and 10 percent oil, according to Costner in a CNN report.

"I'm not on a white horse," Costner said. "I'm not the savior to this thing. But I'm kind of saying, like, I got a life preserver." [ABC video below]

Recent posts on the BP oil spill: 80beats: Should We Just Euthanize the Gulf's Oil-Soaked Birds? 80beats: "Top Cap" Installed on BP Oil Leak; Effectiveness Remains to Be Seen 80beats: This Hurricane Season Looks Rough, And What If One Hits the Oil Spill? 80beats: We Did the Math: BP Oil Spill Is Now Worse Than the Exxon Valdez 80beats: Oil Spill Update: BP to Switch Dispersants; Will Kevin Costner Save Us All?Image: Universal Pictures

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Magazine Examples
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.