by Summer Rand

For many people, retirement is synonymous with rest and relaxation. For Dr. Benjamin de Mayo, it is anything but. The University of West Georgia emeritus professor of physics has been hard at work, first receiving a Canadian patent in 2013 and then recently adding a U.S. patent to his collection for his method of separating oil from oil sand.

Dr. Ben de Mayo, seated in his office in a blue lab coat and a hard hat, proudly hold up his patent certificate.Many of us who aren’t as concerned about sustainability as perhaps we should be, but this is a big deal. Our world runs on petroleum. Its many uses include transportation fuel, heating and electricity, and even asphalt and road oil. It’s important to obtain it in an environmentally friendly way, as the currently accepted technique fails at doing this.

“The current method of separating the oil from the oil sands involves the dumping of oil sands into hot water treated with chemicals,” said de Mayo. “The oil floats to the top and is skimmed off, leaving the sand at the bottom of a big tank of polluted water.”

de Mayo’s method provides a vastly different (and much more environmentally friendly) approach. The machine used has only one main moving part and is made of sheet metal, which will save production and maintenance costs.

Furthermore, because there is no water to heat, his process saves energy and money. Finally, it reduces pollution because there is no “nasty water” to dispose of.

“My process works by heating the oil sand to reduce its viscosity and then circulating it at high speed to fling the oil out,” explained de Mayo. “The sand is held back and the oil escapes through tiny holes.”

His inspiration for this ingenious idea?

He used a similar process back in 1960 to make low-fat potato chips when he worked in a potato chip factory. In 2006, he applied the same technique to oil sands with great success.

Posted on September 13, 2017