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Hoverspill – new vehicle for oil spill clean-up and more

The ‘Hoverspill’ project, with support from the EU Framework Programme, has developed a new amphibious vehicle platform aimed at rapid oil spill response. But researchers say it can and will do much more.

Tags: Water
Hoverspill’s ‘Multipurpose Air Cushion Platform’ (MACP) ©Hoverspill
Hoverspill’s ‘Multipurpose Air Cushion Platform’ (MACP)
© Hoverspill

Over past decades, crude oil and refined fuel spills from tanker ship accidents have caused serious damage to natural ecosystems in Europe and around the world. Marine oil spills can spread for hundreds of kilometres, destroying beaches and killing sea birds, mammals, shellfish and other organisms.

The most spectacular incidents have involved hundreds of thousands of tons of spilled pollutants but smaller spills can also have a big impact, especially in remote sites or when, for various reasons, access is difficult for response teams.

“Hoverspill is a prompt intervention system based on a compact, amphibious and fast hovercraft,” explains Tommaso Foglia of Italy’s Innova S.p.A. “The vehicle is designed for rapid and comprehensive cleaning operations, especially in coastal and river oil spill events.”

Foglia says Hoverspill project partners were particularly interested in transitional areas between land and sea, where shoals and other natural obstacles can make access difficult.

“If pollution takes place at open sea, vessels usually don't reach the location quickly enough and the contaminated area can expand rapidly. But it becomes especially difficult when oil hits areas that cannot be easily reached by traditional vehicles, either by land and or by sea, for the lack of water depth or because of muddy terrain.”

New versitile amphibious vehicle

Central to the Hoverspill project has been the development of a new air-cushion hovercraft vehicle, capable of working both on land and on water, and in areas with high and soft mud.

“Our compact and low-cost hovercraft is powered by a 130 kW Multi-Jet 16V diesel engine, with a low environmental impact,” says Foglia. “The mechanics of the system required a very complicated design phase in order to get the ease of handling we wanted.”

The end result is the so-called ‘Multipurpose Air Cushion Platform’ (MACP), which represents the basis of the Hoverspill system. It will enable operations in difficult areas and can be fitted with specialised equipment. For example, ‘Turbylec’ is an innovative skimmer system, also developed by Hoverspill, for oil-water separation. “The new skimmer is smaller and lighter and can therefore be installed on light vehicles such as our new hovercraft,” explains Foglia.

But the vehicle can also be used in other situations: “The MACP is essentially a mobile chassis, inexpensive to produce and operate, on which we can install different gear and structures.” Properly equipped, it could, for example, be used in flooding scenarios, for firefighting or police operations, or as an amphibious ambulance. It could also serve in geophysical surveying, or in environmental management, especially in wetlands, which are among the most vulnerable ecosystems but also the most difficult to access.

“Hoverspill could become a kind of ‘Swiss army knife’ for oil spill emergency interventions,” says Foglia. “It can be transported quickly by road and parked on land or beaches with no need for a harbour or docking structures.

“Today there is no system on the market as quick and versatile as the Hoverspill vehicle for oil spill emergencies. And there is no such reliable platform as the MACP.”

Worth the investment

“In case of oil spill intervention, Hoverspill will reduce by 30% the total cost of shoreline remediation,” says Foglia. “And, according to our estimations, the market can immediately absorb about 500 equipped Hoverspill vehicles, with a unit cost being between €90 000 and €110 000.

“If we then consider the potential for use by fire brigades, flooding and rescue, amphibious ambulances, police, and water transport in general, we can estimate a worldwide production of 10 000 MACPs, variously equipped, and a revenue of over €700 million in five to seven years.”

Foglia says the international dimension of the project was one of the key factors allowing it to reach its objectives: “The expertise needed would have been difficult to find in any one country. Members of the consortium have worked together closely, with a constant transfer of techniques, know-how, and experience, and some partners are now continuing to collaborate even after the official project end, to improve our technical design.”

Furthermore, he adds, “It is very difficult to carry on this kind of research project without public support. In our case, the support of the EU was crucial and necessary.

“We believe that the Hoverspill project has successfully accomplished its goals, achieving technological innovation, ensuring environmental protection, improving the quality of life of citizens and promoting economic competitiveness.”