What is the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE?

The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE is a $1.4 Million competition designed to inspire a new generation of innovative solutions that will speed the pace of cleaning up seawater surface oil resulting from spillage from ocean platforms, tankers, and other sources. This one year competition will culminate in the fall of 2011, with competitive demonstrations taking place at OHMSETT, the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility. A $1.4 Million Prize will be awarded to the teams that demonstrate the ability to recover oil on the sea surface at the highest Oil Recovery Rate (ORR) of over 2,500 GPM with an Oil Recovery Efficiency (ORE) of more than 70%.

This XCHALLENGE focuses on the ocean surface cleanup, instead of deepwater or the shoreline and marshes restoration:

Oil spills have serious effects on marine life, both through physical contact and toxic contamination, destroying vital plankton and fish, harming seabirds, sea mammals as well as shoreline ecosystems. While the negative effects of on oil spill may eventually fade away, in many cases it takes several years, even decades, before an area or ecosystem has fully recovered from a spill that caused extensive damage.

The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE is specifically focusing on surface oil because we believe that in order to minimize the environmental impact of all oil spills, including those from land drainage and waste disposal, offshore drilling and production spills, and spills or leaks from ships or tankers, we must capture the oil at the spill site. Once the oil hits the shore or is weathered on the sea surface, much damage has been done. We must have the technologies necessary to stop surface oil spills at the spill site.

The specific ocean surface impact on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Spill:

The resulting oil slick from the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Spill covers from 2,500 to 4,000 square miles (6,500 km2), fluctuating from day-to-day depending on weather conditions. This is more than 2.5 Million acres or the size of Hawaii’s Big Island.

Scientists estimate that 35,000 to 60,000 barrels (1.4 million to 2.5 million gallons) of oil have spewed daily from the breach. At the high end, that would mean that about 215 million gallons of oil have leaked into the ocean since the disaster started.

By comparison, the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound amounted to 11 million gallons, and the 1991 Persian Gulf oil disaster spilled 240 million gallons.

Industries directly affected by oil slicks:

On May 24, 2010, the US Government declared a fisheries disaster for the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The initial estimate of revenue lost to the fishing industry was $2.5 Billion. On June 23, 2010, NOAA’s ban on fishing covered 203,570 square kilometers, equal to shutting off fishing to about one-third of the Gulf.

Tar balls litter many beaches from Mississippi to Florida. Some experts are estimating the loss of revenue to the travel and tourism industry to be $22.7 Billion over the next three years (US Travel Association, Oxford Economics).

As of July 14, 2010, the unified command for the BP oil spill reported the initial impact on wildlife, due to the surface oil and contamination of marshes as follows:

  • Birds: 1,866 collected dead; 1,120 collected alive; 505 released.
  • Sea turtles: 463 collected dead; 197 collected alive; 9 nests transported; 56 hatchlings released.
  • Mammals (including dolphins): 59 collected dead; 5 collected alive; one released.
  • The number of fish, shrimp, oysters and other sea creatures killed or harmed is unknown.

The risk of a spill like this happening again:

CNNMoney.com reported in 2009 that 35 vessels were collecting oil at more than 1,000 feet deep in the Gulf, and at least 18 additional deepwater prospects could be developed over the next few years. BP, the biggest deepwater operator in the Gulf, has eight producing deepwater rigs, three of them even deeper than the 5,000-foot Deepwater Horizon.

It is estimated that approximately 706 million gallons of oil enter the ocean every year.

The high risk areas around the world for surface oil contamination:

As of 2007, the United States Central Intelligence Agency statistics accounted for 4,295 oil tankers of 1,000 long tons deadweight (DWT) or greater, worldwide.

Seven flag states had more than 200 registered oil tankers:

  • Panama (528)
  • Liberia (464)
  • Singapore (355)
  • China (252)
  • Russia (250)
  • The Marshall Islands (234)
  • The Bahamas (209)

By way of comparison, the United States and the UK only had 59 and 27, respectively.

The current methods of cleaning up surface oil, and the potential for this competition to create radical breakthroughs with new technology and methodology:

The methods and technology for surface level crude oil clean-up have remained relatively unchanged for decades. The methods being deployed in the Gulf today include: rudimentary skimming; booms serving as barriers to oil reaching land and marshes; absorbent booms and pads; controlled burns of oil pools; and chemical dispersants that have harmful effects to the ocean, air environment and ecosystem.

As more than 65% of all oil produced is shipped by marine transport around the world, and at least 35 platforms in the Gulf produce oil from wells deeper than 1,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, there is a great need to advance the capability to mitigate and clean up oil spills in our oceans, both large and small through rapidly deployable and environmentally friendly means.

Become a Part of the Future! Sign Up for Our Newsletter: