Everett company fights oil spills from the air

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard
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EVERETT, Wash. – Two companies are working together to fight oil spills from the air using Boeing 737 Freighters. 

Waypoint Aeronautical of Everett and British based RVL Group revealed a system to spray dispersants over oil spills to break them up. The work is being done initially for the United Kingdom's Maritime and Coast Guard agency, but the hope is systems can be deployed worldwide.

Dispersants have been used for decades to break up oil spills by causing oil on the water to ball up and sink to the bottom. It's thought bacteria is better able to consume oil in that form.

While the dispersants don't eliminate environmental damage to sea life living on the bottom of oceans and waterways, it can keep more oil from making it to the beach where it can do damage to shore birds, mammals and plant life. Dispersants have been sprayed before largely from military aircraft. 

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The new dispersant system consists of a series of tanks holding more than 4,000 gallons of oil busting chemical.  An onboard pump uses pressure to spray the dispersant out of two nozzles in the back of the plane. Water bombers drop thousands of gallons of water of firefighting retardant in the path of wild fires, but it takes about six minutes to spray the dispersant. This is similar to a sprinkler or a crop duster, said Eric Lundeen, Waypoint Aeronautical's engineering director.

The 737 freighters would be hired from airlines and pre-configured with nozzle piping and other permanent equipment, but otherwise keep carrying freight until needed.

The companies said when a spill happens, the planes would be called in. The tanks and large equipment attached to cargo handling sheets roll in and set up in about four hours. It takes about a half hour to reload the tanks between drops according to the companies.

Backed with investment from the Business Growth Fund, it's hoped the systems can be deployed globally.