Processing Magazine

Dedicated to the proposition oil and water don’t mix

August 1, 2014

Industrial America used to throw oil and water together with abandon. That led to the development of industrial oil skimmers, which have ways to take advantage of the two fluid substances’ well-publicized aversion to each other.

Less of this industrial “throwing together” occurs today than before, due to well-recognized wastewater issues, amongst other reasons. Yet this greater awareness hasn’t led to a general idleness amongst oil skimmers. The same environmental sensitivities that culminate in less mixing have also brought to the table new, both broadly commercial and unforeseen niche applications for industrial oil skimmers.   

Such is life at the Chagrin Falls, Ohio-based Oil Skimmer Division of Abanaki Corp., makers of Abanaki industrial oil skimmers, says Simon Barnett, VP of sales & marketing and long-time company veteran. “It’s a simple principle that can’t be beat,” Barnett says. “A belt, held between two pulleys can remove primary contamination prior to filtration. It removes free-floating oil in water.”

Food industry one focus

Oil skimmers work by making use of the differences in specific gravity and surface tension between oil and water. These physical characteristics allow a belt to attract oil and other floating hydrocarbons. “It’s used in steel mills. In manufacturing plants it’s used to skim floating oils from wastewater sumps. It’s used in paper-making, food processing and wastewater industries,” Barnett says.

Because filters are such a large capital expense, Barnett says, he knows of food processors that have vacuum trucks come in on a regular basis to skim the top off of interceptor or collection pits. In some cases, avoiding just two vacuum-truck service calls would be enough to justify the expense of a skimmer.

Food processing is a big application space for Abanaki oil skimmers, even though the company originally offered its equipment to the steel industry. “Just about any cooking process makes use of oil,” Barnett says, “they will do a washdown at night with the water running through the drainage system to a central tank. After treatment, that water is either recycled or sent into the effluent.”

While applications abound

Other developments Barnett admits he didn’t see coming. For example, that in recent years the company has sold hundreds of oil skimmers to auto-dismantling yards in the United Kingdom, a mom-and-pop type business there, and one that came under the scrutiny of regulators. “They were dumping relatively small amounts of oil contaminated water, but it adds up,” Barnett says.

Today there are solar-powered oil skimmers for the upstream oil & gas industry. Gasoline can be skimmed, and many of the most innovative new applications are tied to research & development breakthroughs related to belt materials. Regardless of industry, Barnett notes, an oil skimmer indicates to the EPA your good intentions.

Yet the last half-decade or so, the Abanaki oil-skimmer growth-driver has been the food & beverage industry. “Cooking facility oil can be recycled rather than incinerated. You get money for what you used to throw out.”