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UNBC engineer receives $1.9 million to study oil spill response

Dr. Jianbing Li is an engineer seeking to discover a groundbreaking solution to an important global question. UNBC photo

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 at the University of Northern British Columbia, is leading part of a national 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.

“Dr. Li is investigating novel techniques to reduce the time it takes and the amount it costs to clean up a marine oil spill, while at the same time ensuring more of the oil can be used again for other purposes,” says UNBC President Dr. Daniel Weeks. “This research will not only help protect Canada’s environment and coastal communities, it will also inform oil spill response approaches around the world.”

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 to senior undergraduate researchers. In addition to assisting in Li’s research project, the funding will provide valuable training opportunities.

“Through the multi-partner oil spill research initiative, we will enhance Canada’s response toolbox in the unfortunate event of a marine oil spill,” Li says. “This project will also assist in training the next-generation of oil spill response professionals. The experience our students will gain by working on this study will help them become highly qualified people in the field.”

The $45.5 million MPRI is improving collaboration with oil response experts around the world, advancing oil spill research in Canada, and will help minimize the environmental impacts of oil spills.

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