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Posted on September 11, 2017 by Nigel Bennett  |  2607 Views

Arctic Demonstration 2017 – Self-Propelled Skimmer - U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)

The US Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC)  explored technologies this past summer as part of its Arctic Technology Evaluation 2017.

After Action Report of the Oil Skimmer Test during 2017 Arctic Technology Evaluations aboard the CGC HEALY (full detailed report available upon request)

The receding Arctic sea ice has reached record lows in recent years, allowing for increased shipping traffic which presents a high risk of oil spills in the Arctic Alaska.  The U.S. Coast Guard is mandated by law to respond to oil spill incidents throughout the nation. Therefore, the Coast Guard's Research and Development Center (RDC), as the sole research facility of the Coast Guard responsible for introducing new technologies to the fleet, is constantly seeking new ways to improve the Coast Guard's oil spill capabilities.

The oil skimmers are the primary means for the Coast Guard and oil spill response organizations to recover oil after an incident. Oil skimmers are devices which sweep the contaminated water and recover (remove) the oil and discharge it onto a tethered or on-board storage device. The oil skimmers are relatively mature mechanical recovery technology, but are primarily used for open waters. In icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, ice patches block the skimmer from reaching the oil slicks and obstruct it's operation. As a result, the oil spill recovery in Arctic is more challenging than most other areas of the nation.

To identify a solution which could potentially mitigate the challenges of recovering oil spills in the Arctic, the RDC tested a new oil skimmer during the 2017 Arctic Technology Evaluations aboard the CGC HEALY. The new skimmer which is called RotoX, was custom built by Aqua-Guard (a company in Vancouver, CANADA). This self-propelled skimmer was designed to maneuver between the ice patches that surround oil slicks and push the smaller patches out of way of the skimming operation in search of the areas covered by oil.

The skimmer also has a frontal cutting mechanism to cut through ice patches for easier access to the entrapped spilled oils. The movements and functions of the RotoX skimmer are run by a “control console” which is connected to the skimmer through several long hydraulic hoses.

The funding for the test originates from the RDC's annual Research Development Test & Evaluation budget. The RDC relied on the expertise of several members of the National Strike Force (NSF) to conduct the test. The importance of this oil spill recovery technology for protecting the environments of Alaska and the Great Lakes cannot be overstated.

• The first objective of this experiment was to test whether the efficiency of a user controlled self propelled skimmer in ice is better than a skimmer that is dipped into the icy water by a crane.
• The second objective was to determine if, comparing to the conventional skimmers, the maneuvering of the vessel is improved with this new skimmer technology.

Overview of operations
The RDC conducted two tests for evaluating the skimmer's performance in both open waters and the ice infested waters of Alaska. The following units and organizations assisted the RDC in carrying out the RotoX skimmer test:

• US Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV): provided a hydraulic power unit (HUP).
• Aqua-Guard Spill Response: manufactured and loaned the RotoX skimmer.
• Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI): provided funding and shipping support for the skimmer.
• CGC HEALY: provided the logistical support, test platform, accommodation and transportation to the Arctic.
• National Strike Force (NSF): Operated and assisted transportation and installation of the skimmer and the HPU.
• USCG Sector Anchorage: Assisted loading, transportation and offloading of the HPU.
• MKC Richard Bassin, MSTC Sheridan McClellan, MSTC Angela Vallier, and DC1 Stephen Russell from NSF operated the skimmer and provided their recommendations to the RDC.
• Aqua-Guard’s technician trained NSF on how to connect the hoses and operate the RotoX through a control console.

RotoX skimmer was partially successful in achieving the first test objective in the ice infested waters of the Arctic as it was able to maneuver around the ice patches and access the areas that are not typically available to conventional skimmers. However, the cutting mechanism did not work as efficiently as expected (explained further in Aqua-Guard's summary of results). The second objective was also fulfilled as the skimmer was capable of operating and moving within the seventy feet range of the HEALY's stern independent of the ship's movement.

The sturdy design of the RotoX oil skimmer proved to be suitable for the Arctic environment withstanding encounters with ice flows and the accidental pummeling by the hull of the ship. The skimmer has plenty of buoyancy and once away from the ship, operated well. In choppy seas, the water came over the skimmer's sides, filling the oil collection port, but in the calm icy waters, the skimmer's performance was more than adequate.

One of the most impressive components of the skimmer was its thrusters. The powerful dual thrusters of the RotoX enabled the skimmer to move effectively away from the ship and travel between the broken ice. The skimmer was capable of driving into open pockets in the ice that would be otherwise hard to maneuver if the skimmer was constrained by the use of a crane. The skimmer was able to push ice out of its path and reach more places than a typical non-self propelled skimmer.

Aqua-Guard’s summary of results:
The RBS TRITONTMoil recovery technology is a certified, proven technology with multiple patents (Canada and USA) and has been used on many environmental disasters in the world from small, chronic oil spills occurring in industrial environments, medium sized spills in lakes or harbours to large spills offshore.

The data collected during the tests in the Arctic was invaluable to the further development of the RotoX and its ice capabilities.  The RotoX skimmer proved to be successful in maneuvering around larger icebergs and also was able to use the dual onboard thrusters to displace smaller icebergs out of the way.

The goals of the test were to determine if a self-propelled skimmer has the ability to maneuver into pockets of water in between large pieces of ice, thus improving the efficeincy of the vessel movements. Previously, the icebreaker would have to move in order to re-position the skimmer into a different pocket of oil. When the icebreaker moves, all the surrounding ice also moves which potentially eliminates the pocket of oil for recovery.

The main goals of the test were reached as the skimmer proved it could navigate itself into small pockets of water where oil would pool in the event of an oil spill. While the ice-cutting mechanisn did not work as efficiently as USCG expected, it is not intended to macerate icebergs, but is intended to chop up smaller ice chunks into slush with the intention of positioning the skimmer into pockets of spilled oil. With the positive results, important feedback and USCG¹s recommendations from the tests, Aqua-Guard will invest further R&D to enhance the system for better efficiency in ice conditions.

It should be noted that typically, the RotoX and RBS TRITONTM 150 OS (offshore) systems are supplied with a floating hose system, but due to time constraints to get the machine built and onboard the Healy icebreaker on time, a standard hose system was supplied for this test (not ideal for offshore conditions. 

The system, with a few minor adjustments, will be ready for market for with regards to arctic oil spill response as the standard RotoX is already on market for heavy oil and sludge processing http://aquaguard.com/news/aqua-guard-launches-new-technology-rotox-to-remediate-ultra-heavy-oil-pits

About Aqua-Guard

Aqua-Guard provides a range of state-of-the-the-art oil spill response solutions including the URO Skimmer System and the RBS TRITON™ range of oil skimmers—all built on Aqua-Guard’s patented RBS TRITON™ technology to deliver some of the highest efficiency and recovery rates in the industry.