Insight

A sponge that absorbs oil

Start-up Oil Spill Cleaning & Rescue Solutions (OCRS) has developed a method to clean up oil spills. With the help of Port Innovation Lab, founders Frans Vandepoele, Bruno Valkeniers and Henk Smith are aiming to use the method to combat oil pollution.

Thousands of oil spills occur throughout the world each year. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, for instance, was an event that clearly had a major environmental impact. Many spills, however, remain “invisible” in the sense that people are simply unaware of them and therefore no efforts are made to clean them up. The slicks left by smaller recreational and commercial vessels are an example in this regard. Start-up OCRS has developed a method to clean up these oil slicks. Founders Frans Vandepoele, Bruno Valkeniers and Henk Smith are aiming to use the method to combat oil pollution in all parts of the world. In the words of Valkeniers, it is about “SOS”, or “Save Our Seas”.

Liquid solution that becomes a sponge

OCRS uses a liquid polyurethane solution that acts as an absorbent. This solution, which OCRS says is harmless, is sprayed on the oil. Once applied, the solution binds with the oil, forming a composite “sponge” that absorbs the oil but not the water. This sponge retains the oil when it is removed from the surface of the water, after which both the sponge and the oil can be recycled following separation. While the OCRS absorbent is most effective on thin oil layers, it can also assist in cleaning up thicker layers.

Being over 60 is ideal

Valkeniers, a maritime consultant, intends to use the method to give something back to the industry in which he worked for decades. It seems rather daring to form a start-up when one is over the age of 60. For Valkeniers, however, it is actually an ideal time to do so. “There’s no longer that much at stake. I do not have to interrupt a career and I no longer have to support children or pay off a mortgage.”

Port Innovation Lab

Valkeniers built up a large network in the course of his professional life. Even a corporate veteran, however, can use the help of a start-up programme when forming and accelerating a new business. OCRS entered the Launch Lab programme, which is also part of Port Innovation Lab. The partnership between YES!Delft and the Port of Rotterdam Authority helps port-related start-ups to launch their ideas. OCRS is currently carrying out tests. As a first product for the maritime sector, the founders are focusing on a kind of “oil extinguisher”, something like a fire extinguisher that can be used by crews of smaller recreational and commercial vessels to clean up oil that has been spilled.

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