Continental takes to the seas with floating oil barrier

Technology company Continental has developed a new generation of floating oil barriers. With a width of 3200mm, they are mainly for use on rough seas.

The floating barriers are used during regular maintenance for oil drilling rigs, as well as in emergency situations in case of offshore accidents. Following an incident, the barriers surround spilt oil at sea so that tankers can quickly pump it out of the water using hoses. This usually takes place directly at the deployment site or in more moderate waters with smaller waves.

In collaboration with a partner, Continental has developed a floating oil barrier that the company claims can withstand even Arctic storms.

Current barriers on the market measure at a maximum of 2000mm.

“For production and material-related reasons, it was previously not possible to manufacture this product with other dimensions. With our 3200mm wide barriers, we are setting new standards in environmental technology,” said Michael Möschen, application engineer at Continental. A wider dimension allows the barriers to withstand heavier storms instead of being washed over in a heavy swell.

After the2010 Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico,investigations showed that much wider barriers are needed for reliably containing an oil slick. Thus, Continental began the development for effective floating oil barriers.

“We are very well positioned in terms of product strategy, and even then, our vulcanization process was sufficiently advanced. We have since already delivered several of these 3200mm wide oil barriers, after their successful testing in heavy storms with meter-high waves,” said Möschen.

The latest generation of the oil barrier is made, assembled, and vulcanized at the Continental plant in Northeim. It is made from rubber and various fabric layers. As there is no alternative fabric on the market in the required size, the separating layers of the individual pieces of fabric have to be joined together when the oil barriers are being made. The manual assembly of the floating barriers makes the production process extremely laborious, on top of the extreme precision work.

“The oil barriers have extremely thin walls for their width – no more than 6-7mm. When they are shipped to the deployment site, they are coiled on strong winches. Every single kilogram counts and so the mass should be kept as low as possible,” added Möschen.

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 under the barrier and ensures instead that the oil is reliably contained.

The development team also made sure the fabric and rubber layer was sturdy enough to withstand flotsam, wreckage, and pressures of up to 0.5 bar. The barriers are airtight similar to a bicycle inner tube, and air is pumped into the barriers as soon as they are lowered into the water by the winch on the ship.

The system’s material is also resistant to ozone, fire, saltwater, and oil.

“With the development of this oil barrier, we have demonstrated our expertise when it comes to materials and production. Moreover, it also consolidates our position as a trailblazer in the sustainable market of environmental technology,” commented Möschen.