A storm whips up waves several meters high, a damaged ship is tossed around like a ball by the forces of nature, a fuel leak poses a threat to the environment: In order to block off the oil slick reliably and avoid consequences for people and the environment even in a situation like this, we have applied our combined materials and manufacturing expertise to develop a particularly effective protective measure. “Together with our partner, we have developed a new type of floating oil barrier that, thanks to its width of 3,200 mm, is especially suitable for use in heavy storms with strong swells,” explains Michael Möschen, application engineer for conveyor belts at Continental.
The fact that accidents on the high seas cannot be completely avoided despite stringent safety measures is demonstrated by incidents such as the devastating sinking of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, but also the recent collision between two cargo ships in the Mediterranean. In incidents such as this, immediate action is essential in order to minimize the extent of the resulting oil slick. The floating barriers surround oil leaks at sea so that tankers can quickly pump it out of the water using hoses. Depending on the swells, this takes place directly at the deployment site or in calmer water with fewer waves. When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster occurred, the barriers that were used had a standard market width of 2,000 mm, but it became apparent that much wider air bags than those typically used were needed to reliably contain an oil slick. As a result, the number of inquiries for appropriate solutions increased and our experts began developing wider designs.
Tailor-made environmental technology
The method of surrounding oil in this way is not new, and our floating barriers have also proven themselves for many years in serial use during maintenance work on oil drilling rigs. “With the 3,200-mm-wide barriers, we are setting new standards in environmental technology,” says Möschen. With this development, we have succeeded in creating oil barriers that can withstand waves even several meters high, while conventional designs with a width of just 2,000 mm are quickly washed over in heavy swells – with catastrophic consequences for the environment. “We have now delivered several of these 3,200-mm-wide oil barriers, but of course only after they had successfully undergone testing in heavy fall storms.”
Michael Möschen, application engineer for conveyor belts at Continental, helped develop this new type of oil barrier:
“With this development, we have succeeded in creating oil barriers that can withstand waves several meters high, thus avoiding catastrophic consequences for the environment.”
To ensure that the barriers remain vertical in the water, chains with weights on them are attached below the water’s surface. This prevents even thick layers of oil from floating into the open sea over and under the barrier and ensures instead that the oil is reliably contained. Our development team also paid particular attention to strength. Flotsam in the sea can damage the floating barriers. The high-strength fabric and sturdy rubber layer of our development are extremely impressive in this respect, too, withstanding pressures of up to 0.5 bar in the laboratory. And another aspect is important: The barriers are airtight like a bicycle inner tube – after all, no air must be allowed to escape while it is in use.