3200mm floating oil barrier
German technology company Continental has developed a new generation of floating oil barrier for use at sea. With a width of 3200mm, they are especially suitable for rough water.
The devastating sinking of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 showed that much wider barriers are needed for reliably containing an oil slick. As a result, the number of inquiries for appropriate solutions increased and work to develop even wider barriers began.
“We are very well positioned in terms of product strategy, and even then our vulcanization process was sufficiently advanced. Production was a real challenge that we successfully overcome. We have since already delivered several of these 3200-mm-wide oil barriers, but of course only after they had successfully undergone testing in heavy storms with metre-high waves,” said Michael Möschen describing the successful project.
The latest generation of the oil barrier is made, assembled and vulcanized at the Continental plant in Northeim. Like the conveyor belts, the manufacture of which has been a specialism of Continental for decades, it is made from rubber and various fabric layers. There is simply no alternative fabric on the market in the required size, which means that the separating layers of the individual pieces of fabric have to be joined together when the oil barriers are being made. The particular challenge during production is therefore the manual assembly of the floating barriers, which makes the production process extremely laborious. On top of that, the units and presses have to work with extreme precision. “The oil barriers have extremely thin walls for their width – no more than 6–7mm. When they are shipped to the deployment site, they are coiled on strong winches. Every single kilogram counts and so the mass should be kept as low as possible,” added Möschen.
Tested under special test conditions and at sea, the floating barriers have proven themselves to be extraordinarily reliable and secure. In terms of width, they are unrivaled on the market. To ensure that the barriers remain vertical in the water, chains with weights on them are attached below the water’s surface. This prevents even thick layers of oil from floating into the open sea under the barrier and ensures instead that the oil is reliably contained.
The development team also paid particular attention to strength. Flotsam in the sea can damage the floating barriers. The high-strength fabric and sturdy rubber layer of this Continental development is extremely impressive in this respect, too, withstanding pressures of up to 0.5 bar in the laboratory. That sounds modest, but it is enormous for an air bag of this size. And another aspect is important: The barriers are airtight like a bicycle inner tube – after all, no air must be allowed to escape during deployment. Air is pumped into the barriers as soon as they are lowered into the water by the winch on the ship.
The system’s material is also resistant to ozone, fire, saltwater and oil. The barriers are suitable for multiple use and, depending on the harshness of the deployments, have a long service life for a product that is constantly exposed to adverse conditions. “With the development of the 3200-mmwide oil barrier, we have demonstrated our expertise when it comes to materials and production. Moreover, it also consolidates our position as a trailblazer in the sustainable market of environmental technology,” emphasized Möschen.
By Jake Frith
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