Mechanical recovery techniques are used to clean up oil spills in marine environments; however, their efficiency is challenged when dealing with heavy oil, ice covered water and high sea states. Current mechanical recovery techniques are based on removing oil from the water surface, however, a significant amount of oil could remain in the water column below the surface due to turbulent ocean conditions, the density of heavy oil and oil escaping underneath the booms when the sweeping speed increases. To enhance the oil recovery effectiveness, oil particles in the water column need to be guided to the surface to be recovered by the skimmers. This paper focusses on the development of a test protocol and physical testing in C-CORE’s lab of a bubbler system for enhancing the harsh environment oil spill recovery. Air bubbles produce an upward flow in the water body, which guides the submerged particles to the surface. The air bubbles also attach to the oil particles, leading to an increase in the buoyancy and rate at which oil droplets rise to the surface. By adopting this technique for oil recovery, additional oil particles can be brought to the surface. In the study, the bubbler system was tested in both stationary and advancing conditions with medium and heavy oils. The results of the stationary and advancing tests indicate that the oil recovery ratios can be significantly enhanced by using an optimized bubbler system. Different types and configurations of bubblers were tested by varying the airflow rates and bubbler advancing speeds to determine the optimal solution. The optimal bubbler system has been observed to enhance the recovery ratio from 41.5% to 84.8% with airflow rates ranging from 0.05 to 0.20 CFM/foot. Furthermore, the effective integration of the bubbler system with a mechanical recovery system, its deployment and retrieval in a near field condition were demonstrated during tests in an outdoor tank.

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