Frequently Asked Questions
How did the concept for E-MOP originate?
Like all of us, Physicist Arden Warner watched with dismay as billions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico when the DeepWater Horizon spill occurred in 2010. This devastating spill poisoned our marine life, spoiled our coastlines, and wrought economic havoc in the region. He began to wonder if magnetic forces could be applied to this problem. It had been known for decades that fluids could be magnetized. Could magnetic forces be engaged to magnetize oil and then move it from the surface? Arden postulated that electromagnetic forces would be powerful enough to convert the passive containment boom of current remediation efforts into an active boom—an electromagnetic boom that collects the oil, moves it along to an electromagnetic ramp, and then into a separator tank. He began a series of simple experiments to prove that his hypothesis was achievable. Many of these experiments were first conducted on a small scale in Arden’s garage, then at medium scales at Natural Science’s facility in Big Rock, IL and finally a large-scale test at Ohmsett, the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility in Leonardo, New Jersey.
How did you come up with the idea of magnetic oil spill remediation?
Magnetization of oil is not a new concept, but we realized that the phenomena that allows oil and magnetizable particles to bond at the molecular level also prevents oil and water from mixing. This was not being exploited to recover oil from water. Standard booms are passive devices, and skimmers rely primarily on surface tension effects to work and are inefficient. Exploiting the very same electromagnetic forces that prevent oil and water from mixing seemed natural to us and basically mimics nature in solving the problem. We then did several fundamental experiments on a small scale to verify that this could work.
How does E-MOP work?
Oil is first seeded with magnetite (ferrous oxide) to create a magnetizable mixture. Then an electromagnetic boom and electromagnetic ramp create magnetic fields that direct the mixture along the boom, up a magnetic ramp, and into a magnetic separator tank, where the oil can be reclaimed for reuse. Electromagnetic remediation technology can be deployed in water or on land, such as a coastline. This remediation process is efficient, nontoxic, and natural, unlike current solutions that rely on chemical dispersants, burning, inefficient skimmers, and other ineffectual methods.
How big a problem are oil spills?
Oil spills are one of the most devastating environmental threats to our coasts, waterways, and oceans. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 1.3 million gallons of petroleum spill into U.S. waters from vessels and pipelines alone in a typical year. Major accidents occur regularly and effect catastrophic and lasting impacts on waterways and oceans, marine life, and local economies. The cleanup effort for DeepWater Horizon, which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, still continues almost a decade and many billions of dollars later.
Why aren’t existing remediation solutions more effective?
Despite the size of the problem, remediating oil spills remains an intractable problem. Standard methods rely heavily on passive booms (floating barriers that keep the spill from spreading) and skimmers that attempt to skim the oil from the surface. Booms are ineffective when seas are rough, while skimmers are known to collect a lot of oily water and they target only surface oil. Other methods include chemical dispersants, sorbents, in-situ burning, and bioremediation. Surprisingly, manual labor (scoops and shovels) are still widely used. These methods are often inefficient or harmful to the ecosystem.
What attributes make E-MOP better or different than existing solutions?
Electromagnetic oil spill remediation technology is nontoxic, uses only natural materials, and is very efficient at collecting the oil on or beneath the surface, separating it from water, and
reclaiming it for reuse. Its special advantages are several:
• Collects oil within the reach of the magnetic fields
• Reduces the oil spread rate and aids confinement due to forces between the magnetic
particles and the hydrocarbon bonds
• Actively attracts the oil for collection via the active e-boom
• Allows oil to be efficiently lifted off surfaces (magneto-rheological effects)
• Collects oil at both surface and subsurface
• Works just as well in cold water spills
• Combats wave action by orienting itself in the wave direction
• Separates oil from the water and magnetite so all can be reused
• Environmentally benign—safe, nontoxic, reusable
What is magnetite and how does it work to magnetize the oil?
Magnetite is ferrous oxide (Fe3O4), a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in igneous and metamorphic rocks and is prevalent in beach sands. We use micron-sized bits of magnetite, which form a unique and preferential bond with the oil due to their size and a combination of molecular forces. Once magnetite particles are seeded in the oil, the mixture is responsive to magnetic forces. Once the oil is collected and in the separator tank, we gain use electromagnetic forces to separate the magnetite from the oil so both can be reused.
How do you seed a large oil spill?
We get this question quite often, but it's not the most technically challenging issue we had to solve. We can certainly use the same methods that are used to disperse chemicals in oil spills. However, low-velocity spreader nozzles and specially designed seeders are a part of the system design. The ratio of particles to oil is very low and the distribution is not required to be uniform. We can also inject the particle at the source of a leak depending on the situation. Each situation will essentially dictate the methods, but we don’t view this as a difficult engineering challenge. Since the ratio of particles to oil is low and the distribution does not need to be ordered in any way, we can employ standard methods to seed the oil.
How does the electromagnetic boom collect the oil and transport it to the ramp and into the separator?
The electromagnetic boom consists of doughnut-shaped electromagnets that are coupled together in groups of six to form a module. Modules are connected together to form the “eboom.” The magnets are pulsed in a sequence that moves the mixture along the boom using the water as the transport medium, much like a train uses tracks as its transport mechanism. As the mixture moves up the electromagnetic ramp, the water is rejected and only the oil is captured at a 97% efficiency (separation from water).
How does the MAT™ product fit in with E-MOP?
The MAT™ Magnetizable Absorbent Technology provides a magnetizable organic product that can be manipulated magnetically to trap and remove environmental spills, including oils, fuels, chemicals and PCBs. Effective on land, water, and surfaces that do not lend themselves to standard methods of remediation, this technology efficiently addresses environmental accidents, water treatment, and filtering needs across many industries.
Are these technologies scalable and able to handle a large spill?
Both E-MOP and MAT were designed to be highly scalable and customizable to the requirements of the individual incident. The e-boom, for example, is highly componentized so scaling up simply requires additional boom modules. We recently validated E-MOP at Ohmsett, the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility in Leonardo, New Jersey, with an independent team of oil spill remediation specialists. The technology efficiently collected oil and delivered it to the separator tank with a 97.2% efficiency separating the oil from water.
What is the relationship with Fermilab?
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) has supported our conceptualization of EMOP through their Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer. Natural Science has an exclusive license to utilize and develop electromagnetic oil recovery boom technologies across a broad range of applications.
Do you have customers today? How do you plan to commercialize the technology?
We are in the early stages of commercializing the technology and are eagerly approaching this exciting next phase. We see a number of applications for the technology, the most obvious being oil spill remediation and other water reclamation needs. That said, our target customers are oil and gas producers, national and international government agencies tasked with ocean conservancy and clean water mandates, and partner-suppliers within the remediation industry. We are actively marketing our products in response to a groundswell of interest as the industry hears about our solution. The company holds multiple patents and has additional patents pending on its technology.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
We are focused in three areas.
• First, we are working with our manufacturing team to hone the production cycle and
costs for the electromagnetic boom and ramp so that we can accurately price a solution
for customers and tell them exactly how long it will take to deliver. Each system is customized, of course, so getting this as formulaic as possible is good for everyone.
• Second, we are revisiting our business model to assess the best go-to-market approach,
funding requirements, and potential partners.
• Third, we want to bring on our first customers and do an exceptional job servicing their
What is Natural Science’s vision for the future?
Natural Science was founded in 2014 by a team of scientists and engineers with a mission to solve environmental problems with solutions that were environmentally safe, outstrip current solutions in terms of efficiency, leverage aspects of the problem itself, and use natural, environmentally safe materials. We believe our approach will deliver environmentally sound solutions that are game changers for our planet, and that is our commitment. The company’s first products—E-MOP™ Electromagnetic Oil Spill Remediation Technology and MAT™ Magnetizable Absorbent Technology—meet our goals as a company, and we look forward to bringing these to bear on the devastating environmental threats to our land and waters caused by toxic spills.