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Issued: January 31 2019

The explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico set off a summer-long environmental catastrophe. The drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010, 67 kilometres off the shore of Louisiana, killing 11 crewmembers and igniting a fireball that burned for two days until the Horizon sank, leaving the well gushing at the seabed and resulting in the largest-ever oil spill in US waters. By the time the well was capped, as many as 4.2 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf. The oil spill had killed thousands of animals and had a devastating effect on coastal communities, especially those reliant on fisheries. The oil spill sparked a massive cleanup effort that involved 48,000 people and 6,500 vessels by the end of 2010.


The public health and economic concerns posed by an oil spill to coastal communities around the world has since then spurred some very interesting developments. There are many different solutions in development and academic researchers and businesses alike are coming up with innovative ideas that will make future oil spill cleanup easier, quicker and less damaging to the marine environment.

Conventional Methods Innovative Methods
Oil containment with booms

Sorbent materials

Vessels spraying chemical dispersants

Bioremediation technologies
Use of adsorbents

Nanomaterials/nanotechnology (including membranes, foams, meshes, filters/pads, nanodispersants, nanostructured organoclays, carbon nanostructures, micro-and-nano-titanium dioxide (TiO2), aerogels and magnetic nanocomposites)

In-situ burning Sea robots

The following charts depict a snapshot of the patent situation (over the last five years) in the field of oil spill cleanup. A total of 605 patent publications have been analyzed from 2013 to 2018, for global jurisdiction, and the figures below depict the trend in the patent filings.

Publication Trend

The Publication Trend graph discloses the patents published from 2013 to 2018. The number of patents published has remained more or less the same for a period of two consecutive years. However, there has been an overall increase from 65 patents published in 2013 to 139 patents published in 2017, but there was a slight decrease with 122 patents published in 2018.

Filing Trend

The Filing Trend graph discloses the number of patent applications filed, which has increased tremendously from one patent application filed in 2000 to 111 patent applications filed in 2017. However, only 20 patent applications have been recorded to be filed in 2018.

Assignee Distribution

The Assignee Distribution graph analyzes the top 15 assignees in the domain for oil spill cleanup technologies. The top assignee identified is Zhejiang Ocean University with 13 patent publications, followed by Wuxi Yinlian Gear Transmission with six patent publications. It is also observed that companies as well as universities/institutes are equally active in the domain of patent filings for oil spill cleanup technologies.

Geographical Distribution

The Geographical Distribution graph shows the top 10 jurisdictions with patent activity. It can be seen that China has a share of 59 percent, followed by the United States with a share of 20 percent and Japan with a share of 5 percent.


It is apparent based on the trends and analysis depicted above that there are a number of innovative techniques, which have enormous potential for cleaning up oil and other contaminants in areas of oil spillage.

Though many of these solutions are still in the early stages of development, one thing they all have in common is that they eliminate the need for harsh chemicals in the oil spill cleanup process and remove oil from the water faster. This is a big step forward to make the marine environment safer during the ongoing transition from fossils to renewables. Furthermore, extensive research and adequate financing will ensure that these techniques are fully-replicated to large-scale operations, opening up opportunities for efficient and effective oil spill cleanups.


About the Author

Shephali Vilas Pawar is an associate with the patents team at LexOrbis. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.


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