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

By Joseph Calamia | June 15, 2010 11:17 am

WaterworldCan 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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • Mort

    How long will it take to produce 32 of them?

  • http://www.facebook.com/yumfy Dan Barrett

    He may not be able to act to save his life, but I guess ol’ Kevin is alright.

  • Lisa Gibson

    Bless Kevin, for having the time and money to play with gadgets that were inspiried by something so devastating. BP did say they wanted suggestions. ? ? ? Can it be put out in the current that is headed for the Flordia Keys, to keep it from going any further?

  • Jockaira

    I’m absolutely astonished that someone had not yet considered industrial-sized centrifuges for just such an occasion. The basic technology has been in place and useful for at least the past half-century as witnessed by uranium centrifuges doing an incredibly difficult task much more demanding than the simple separation of oil from water.

    I’m in agreement with Costner’s statement: “But from where I’m sitting, it’s equally inconceivable that these machines are not already in place.”

    The best guess for this snafu is that entrenched but not necessarily evil interests at the oil companies and their dependents have simply ignored centrifuges in deference to their already developed and money-making processes.

    Which reminds me…have you heard about this 200 mpg carburetor that GM has been sitting on for the last hundred years?

  • Becky

    Thank you, Kevin.

  • johnny33405

    Yeah, Kevin Costner is great spokesperson. That is right, he said it best. He is not playing sides. Sure he has his own political beliefs and favorites in business and politics but he is jumping in with a solution and speaking on behalf of both the environment and local economies that are going to feel the effects. What the heck. He and what? I guess his brother have been working on this for a long time unbeknownst to most everyone.
    He is also one of my favorite actors with great movies playing great guy parts.
    Wish I was allowed to be the cool silent type too.
    I am concerned but never allowed to do anything. Maybe Costner can get both private and public support ramped up too.
    Good luck to Costners.
    I am not a waa waa type either. Eat your hearts out people.

  • Peter

    Mr.Costner’s motives are honorable but his technology is not the best choise. There is a sand decontamination & oil water separation technology that is more efficient (99.9999% purity) and 75% less expensive to operate. Genoil’s Crystal Sea Oil Water Separator and sand decontamination technology address all the oil spill contamination emergencies in the Gulf of Mexico including the beaches, and the Louisiana marshlands. The sand cleaner can be portable and built especially to operate using salt water which makes it much more profitable. This portability and adaptability enables it to do cleanup at the location much faster than a non-portable unit.

    The Coast Guard & ABS (American Bureau of Shipping) approved Crystal Separator reduces oil contaminated water to 2.5 parts per million in contamination instead of >1000 ppm.

    http://www.genoil.ca

  • http://www.genoil.ca Brian

    Just checked out Genoil’s technology and your right Peter it’s clearly a cheaper and better path to take. This must be a PR move for BP to go with Mr. Costner’s technology.

    I just can’t get over the lack of execution to clean this mess up.

  • http://listeningsrazzforum.yuku.com maggie lee

    Article asks: Why didn’t more-qualified problem solvers come up with this solution first?

    ———–

    By-passing all the examples in history of “amateurs” finding big answers and new technologies, I doubt Mr. Costner came up with anything but the recognition that an idea was good and the money and support to develop it, hiring those who had the technical qualifications.

    Hoping at least a few cents of the dollars I spent seeing The Bodyguard 8 times and Prince of Thieves 6 went into this. (No, no I’m *not* embarrassed. I also happened to like The Postman. Rather a lot, actually.)

    ml

  • Skeptikor

    I doubt if there is one technological fix for a problem of this magnitude. BP — and other oil companies — ought to have a whole range of solutions in their toolbox for contingencies of this sort.

    That being said, plaudits to Kevin for putting his money where his imagination is. We can only hope that more movie stars and others of spectacular fortune emulate his entrepreneurial spirit and decide to take measured risks with their wealth to the betterment of this planet.

  • rabidmob

    Well hopefully the devices are able to clean up a percentage of the spill, they certainly aren’t going to get anywhere near 100%.

    If they can even get 5% I think I’d be astonished and if you can do that for 20M, then obviously it’s a drop in the bucket in costs of cleanup.

  • JD

    While they wait to build them why don’t they use straw from bales and cover important areas. Straw easily soaks up oil and is much cheaper. Let the straw soak the oil up before it hits the shoreline of other areas.

  • RJ

    These machines have been around for a long long time. In the Navy they were called lube oil purifiers we used them to seperate water and other debris from the lube oil…before returning the oil for use. No idea why larger versions were never considered for cases like this.

  • http://AmericanHandmade.com Jill in Texas

    I think that anything that works is better than doing what they’re doing now which is next to nothing. I watched the youtube video of the two farmers giving the press a demo of the amazing ability of straw to attract and trap the oil. I even sent a copy to the white house just in case they haven’t heard about it yet. That could work GREAT at keeping it off the beaches and out of the wetlands

    What I can’t understand is why they are taking MONTHS to do ANYTHING to keep it away from the SHORE and all our wetlands. It’s CRIMINAL and I am outraged at all the Partisan Politics going on. STOP TRUSTING B.P. to do the right thing AND Stop all the political posturing and JUST GET THE F—-ING THING DONE. Play the Stupid Games Later.

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    It’s pretty unlikely that a patent clerk would shake the world and transform the science of physics from out of nowhere, reshaping an entire world’s destiny….

    But Einstein did it.

    However, BP’s been disingenuous at best, outright liars at worse, so maybe they’re buying some free, semi-balding publicity.

  • Cynic Realist

    Jill, how long ago was it that you were voting for Bush and gassing up your SUV, anyway? I think the Texans in the room should shut the hell up. Haven’t you people done enough for your country?

  • Captain Jack Sparrow

    Costner? 250 GPM? BP is buying off Costner to shut his mouth. We have oil/water separators that do 5000 GPM that are not being deployed. Lets not talk about Costner’s partner being buds with the Louisiana Attorney General. What a bunch of crap.

    This is a shame….

    `The Spill is being managed by the Marx Brothers and folk think that Costner is something? Please……

  • Ruth

    The voraxial separator is superior to Costner’s -
    Chicago style politics got Costner’s archaic machines sold. see the difference http://www.evtn.com/index.html

  • BP Spill Solved

    I have solved the BP spill! I will recover all oil and create wealthy landowners in the gulf all at the same time. Here is the plan:

    According to Congressman Johnson, Guam may tip over if it is over populated. His analysis proposes that Guam floats.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNZczIgVXjg

    We will tow Guam around Tierra Del Fuego and into the gulf where it covers the spill. Then we will drill shallow wells and suck up all of the oil under Guam. The landowners who buy beachfront on Guam will be millionaires overnight. The entire population will be very wealthy and live happy lives provided that they do not all run to board the same cruise ship and cause Guam to tip over.

  • http://none JR

    Everyone keeps asking, “Why is it taking the government so long to do anything?”

    You answered your own question, it is the federal government, or more precise, various components of various agencies that are all part of the bureaucracy. The most unyielding, unwieldy, part of our government. It is proactive in nothing, and reactive to everything to the point of being bogged down into an immovable morass that is always behind in everything, because someone more important than someone else who thinks he is also your boss wants you to drop everything and to do what they want done (not knowing that is exactly what you are doing for someone else that is as equally important as the person who wants everything now). If you are lucky, you can play them off each other, if not, one will want you to use your left hand to write with while the other will want you to use your right. When former President George Bush told the FEMA director after Katrina, “Brownie, you are doing a great job.” It was because Brownie told him that everything was going smoothly, which is the information that came from the field level up and eventually made it to President Bush’s ears via his FEMA director. If you think that anything has changed because their is a new president, guess again. The same low level, mid level and many of the senior executives that were in the Bush administration are part of the Obama administration, and George Bush inherited many from the Clinton administration. The only one President Bush could fire was his FEMA director, who lost his job because he was lied to as to what the conditions were really like.

    If you think these people can be fired…forget it. They are protected by a civil service system that had a definite purpose in preventing cronyism when first enacted, but now serves as a upwardly mobile welfare administration.

    In conclusion, the same people who are in charge of cleaning up and taking charge of cleaning up the mess also brought you the U.S. Postal Service.

  • http://AmericanHandmade.com Jill in Texas

    Back to # 16, cynic realist. When you learn to read, as well as Think, you’ll notice that it says IN Texas, not From Texas which by the way is still considered part of the United States and the people here are just like everywhere else, mostly nice, but some not.

    I didn’t vote for bush And I Don’t drive an SUV. I recycle as much as possible and live as ecologically aware a life as possible. What ways do you contribute to this wonderful experience we call life on this fabulous planet we call earth?

    It’s IGNORANT BIGOTS like you (all over the world) that are a MAJOR part of OUR countries and worlds problems today. Go back to school and learn how to use your brain instead of just your mouth … Peace and Love … (I still struggle with wishing that to idiots)

  • http://capoeirameister.de/ Evelynn Eke

    Whats up! I simply wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the good data you will have right here on this post. I will likely be coming back to your weblog for extra soon.

  • http://www.evtn.com Ruth

    just an update on enviro voraxial technology the preferred oil spill clean up equipment.

    they are expanding their produced water sales in South America and entering the frac water sector

    here http://www.evtn.com
    then go to their news

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