NTNU student entrepreneurs – Anette Andersen, Nina Heir and Karl Nevland have come up with an environmentally safe and green method of cleaning oil spills “ChemFree”. Their innovation was awarded prize for best international contribution and for best master’s project in the international finals of Green Challenge in Copenhagen this summer. They won the third place in the Norwegian Climate LaunchPad finals, which were arranged at NTNU in May.
They have collaborated with an inventor from SINTEF and intend to market their product.
The present day technology in use to clean up oil spills is to disperse chemicals into the oil spill, which then reacts to break the oil into micro particles, which then gets naturally absorbed by natural bacteria in the ocean. Recent research shows that adding chemicals to spill could slow down natural processes and not much is known about its impact on the marine ecosystem.
One of the student entrepreneurs is quoted to have said: “We really don’t know enough about how these chemicals affect the microbial ecosystems in our oceans and there is some discussion as to whether these compounds prevent bacteria from being able to properly break down the oil”.
The technology behind ChemFree involves high-pressure spraying of sea water into oil spills to cause them to disperse into tinier bits allowing it to be absorbed by ocean bacteria. It acts more like a giant high pressure washer. Lab tests have proven that this method allows the oil spill to break up into micro particles finer than which is achieved by the use of chemicals.
The three students started their 2-year masters program in NTNU school of Entrepreneurship in 2014. They aim to have launched ChemFree by the time they complete their masters program. The original idea is from Stein Erik Sørstrøm, who works at SINTEF, where the technology is in its development stage. While the lab tests have proven successful, full scale live testing will be done using a prototype that is currently being developed. ChemFree is patented and the rights to it will be transferred from SINTEF to ChemFree as soon as the new company is up and running.
Student entrepreneur Nina Heir says: “Monetary prizes like this are incredibly valuable for a startup company. Previously, we’ve received aid from Spark and Trønderenergi, which has allowed us to travel around the world and meet with potential future clients. Meetings like this could easily be a deciding factor of our company’s success”.