UNBC engineering prof Dr. Jianbing Li receives a $1.9 million for oil spill response study.
Dr. Jianbing Li is an engineer seeking to discover a groundbreaking solution to an important global question.
At the same time, he is a rare case, hoping his results will be used sparingly.
Li, an Environmental Engineering Professor, is leading a project to investigate improved methods to separate oil from water to make it more efficient and less costly to clean up marine oil spills.
He will also conduct experiments to treat oily waste and convert it into useful energy.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada pledged $1.9 million to fund the next stage of Li’s research through the multi-partner oil spill research initiative (MPRI). The project began last fall and Li and his collaborators spent the first year reviewing regulations and technologies and developing experiments.
“One of the purposes of this project is to enhance our response toolbox in the event of a marine oil spill,” Li explains.
Current techniques for cleaning up marine oil spills involve collecting oily wastewater from the ocean and transporting it to shore for processing or disposal. Li’s research will explore ways to separate the oil from the water while the response ships are still at sea.
Among the tasks Li and his fellow researchers will work on include developing improved decanting techniques to separate oil and water, exploring how oily waste can be minimized and generate useful energy, and developing an integrated oily waste management decision-support system to assist in determining the best response for marine oil spill.
The federal funding will help support 11 scientific trainee positions at UNBC, ranging from post-doctoral researchers and PhD candidates to graduate students and senior undergraduate researchers. In addition to assisting in Li’s research project, the funding will provide valuable training opportunities.
“Another purpose of this project is to train the next generation of oil spill response professionals,” says Li. “This experience will help our students become highly qualified people in the field.”
PhD candidate Nahid Hassanshahi came to UNBC from Iran to join the project.
She is looking forward to applying new techniques to salvage spill oil for other uses.
“We know that oil is expensive. Not only will this research help protect our oceans, but we would like to be able to use the oil again, rather than throw it away,” she says.
Li is collaborating with researchers from Memorial, Dalhousie, the University of British Columbia – Okanagan, McGill University, the National Research Council of Canada, Huntsman Marine Science Centre and the University of California - Berkeley, as well as industry partners.
“This is an applied science project,” Li says. “As part of this project we will work with many partners, including oil-spill response corporations, to ensure the methods we test in our laboratories can be applied in the field.”