Oil Spill Challenge “Solution Revealed” #5: The Magnetic Plug

Posted by JohnDila on Jul 9, 2010 1:18:41 PM

The days and weeks pass, and oil continues to blast upwards from the bottom of the Gulf. And as time marches on, we continue to receive submissions from you about how to stop the gushing oil and protect the coastline. Because of the importance and magnitude of this disaster, and because we want to keep you apprised of various InnoCentive activity around this Challenge, we are glad to share during the coming weeks the details of several key solutions and ideas we’ve received from you. Today’s post is a summary of a submission by Renate Wortelboer.

Pipes--horizontal or vertical--from which oil leaks under enormous pressure, could be closed by using the strongest magnets available in several sizes.


A custom made, cone shaped strong magnet with a “collar” at its widest diameter to fit the pipe could withstand the pressure of the flowing oil. If this magnet is not strong enough to withstand the pressure, another magnet could be added on top of the cap, like halter weights.

Small crevices could be covered with a layer of small metal and magnets. The entire structure could then be sealed off with bitumen, cold asphalt, synthetic rubber or any other sealing material. To finish, the bedrock could be restored with stones.

Schematic cross-cut overview:

  1. Pipe to be closed
  2. Main magnet, first placed
  3. Extra weights
  4. Magnetic “wings” as long as possible
  5. Layer of bits of metal & magnets
  6. Layer of sealant
  7. Layer of stones


It could be investigated whether the wings should be attached later or be on the main magnet already. However, an on/off switch will be required for the wings if already attached.

Around the entire structure, to seal it properly, a thick layer of a mixed iron/steel/magnets could be used. When a layer of synthetic rubber, for example, reinforced with any metal is chosen, it would help if the underlying layer still has magnetic properties.

The main magnet could also be composed of magnetic cubes or balls, glued or attached to steel rods to create a cone shape. This might save time.

Resources for further reading:

Cold asphalt: http://www.coldasphalt.com/

Magnet supplier: http://www.supermagnete.nl/eng/index.php

Topics: Solvers, Seekers

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