Basics of oil spill cleanup by Fingas M., Charles J.

By Fingas M., Charles J.

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Even more significantly, the viscosity of the oil increases by as much as 1000 times, depending on the type of emulsion formed. For example, an oil that has the viscosity of a motor oil can triple in volume and become almost solid through the process of emulsification. These increases in volume and viscosity make cleanup operations more difficult. Emulsified oil is difficult or impossible to disperse, to recover with skimmers, or to burn. Emulsions can be broken down with special chemicals to recover the oil with skimmers or to burn it.

If about 40% (by weight) of an oil evaporates, its viscosity could increase by as much as a thousandfold. Its density could rise by as much as 10% and its flash point by as much as 400%. The extent of evaporation can be the most important factor in determining properties of an oil at a given time after the spill and in changing the behaviour of the oil. Emulsification Emulsification is the process by which one liquid is dispersed into another one in the form of small droplets. Water droplets can remain in an oil layer in a stable form and the resulting material is completely different.

In fact, pour point has been used too much in the past to predict how oils will behave in the environment. For example, waxy oils can have very low pour points, but may continue to spread slowly at that temperature and can evaporate to a significant degree. Distillation fractions of an oil represent the fraction (generally measured by volume) of an oil that is boiled off at a given temperature. This data is obtained on most crude oils so that oil companies can adjust parameters in their refineries to handle the oil.

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