SPSU developing oil cap mechanism
by Jon Gillooly
November 24, 2010 12:00 AM | 5749 views | 2 2 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
 Powder Springs resident Jim Baltimore, 49, a father of two who decided to earn a civil engineering degree at Southern Polytechnic State University to improve his marketability after working in the construction industry for years, celebrates after successfully capping a test oil spill leak demonstration Tuesday on the SPSU campus. Baltimore began working on a design for the cap after viewing the BP oil disaster earlier this year.<br>Staff/Anthony Stalcup
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MARIETTA - The 50-foot geysers erupting from the campus of Southern Polytechnic State University on Tuesday were part of a student/faculty test of an oil cap mechanism that could someday be used to seal future leaks on deepwater oil wells - such as BP's in the Gulf of Mexico that for months defied efforts to be capped.

The inception of the project comes from Powder Springs resident Jim Baltimore, 49, a father of two who decided to earn a civil engineering degree at SPSU to improve his marketability after working in the construction industry for years.

Baltimore, who is in his third year at SPSU, said he began working on a design for the cap after viewing the BP oil disaster earlier this year.

"I brought it to the school and the school said, 'you know what? Let's spend some money (about $12,000) and try it, and if it fails, it fails, but if works, you know it's a great thing,'" Baltimore said.

In his youth, Baltimore said he worked offshore for Otis Engineering and was therefore familiar with such rigs.

"It's just a tough job out there, and it's a dangerous job, and it's getting more dangerous cause these guys are drilling deeper and deeper, and the deeper you go, the less control you have of something. And our whole mission here was to give them a safety device. The real mission was how can we protect the rig and the people on it?" he said.

Baltimore and his team constructed a working prototype of the oil cap design, standing eight feet tall and weighing more than 460 pounds.

On Tuesday, they latched the cap, which was suspended by a crane, onto the end of a fire hose connected to a fire hydrant to see if would stop the flow of water, which they said was roughly equivalent to a full-size cap being attached to a leaking oil pipe. The cap they designed is significantly lighter than the one currently being used to seal the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, and it grabs onto the leaking pipe in a different manner.

The device, which took a four and a half months to build, is patent pending, he said.

"Potentially it could make us some money, but that wasn't our goal," Baltimore said. "Really our goal was to see if we could do this. This thing can be mounted all the time near the rig, underwater, but near the rig and if there is a blowout, if the blowout preventer fails, you can pull this off the casing and keep the dynamic forces from that blowout from ever reaching the rig, so we can eliminate death and destruction upon the rig and the actual sinking of the rig," Baltimore said.

Dr. Russ Hunt, dean of SPSU's Extended University, who oversaw the project, said the device they built was a prototype of a real device that would weigh about 66 tons.

"But as far as the design of the tool, this really is the design that we came up with," Hunt said. "We've done a full scale design in an analytical 3D modeling package, and we developed it this year in our own labs. This has all been developed by volunteer effort from students, faculty and staff here on campus, and they've created the tool that you see behind us here."

The project was a good example of how students at SPSU don't simply study theory in textbooks, but work on real life problems in a hands-on manner.

"That's what Southern Polytechnic is all about," Hunt said. "We provide the theory and all of the analytical capacity, but then we also follow up with the practical applications all the way down to the manufacturing issues."

Baltimore said it's all about saving lives.

"It taught us that there's a safer, better way to drill off shore in deep water. And what we've learned from all these experiences is we can keep a blow out from ever reaching a rig so that, number one, nobody has to get killed on a oil rig. Number two is, once we either cut or they remove their drill pipe, we capture and contain the oil well, we can kill it and keep it from leaking."

Baltimore said his wife, Sabree, was pleased with the project's success.

"She's happy because this is done and now we can go on vacation. That's what she's been waiting on," he said.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
December 01, 2010
SPSU shows once again what kinds of students it has helped create and bring forth. This school has really made significant changes as a leading technological college in the Southeast. My company hires the majority of it's brightest talent from SPSU and we are considered the leader in integrative construction design in the United States! Way to go SPSU!
SPSU Hornet
November 24, 2010
Way to go SPSU and their students. It is about time GA sees what topnotch engineers we graduate and have been for several years. That other "engineering" school seems to get most of the attention.
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