An oil skimmer is a piece of equipment which is designed to clean up spilled oil. There are a number of applications for oil skimmers, and there are a number of different styles on the market to meet various needs. These devices are used to clean up after tanker spills, to clarify mixtures of oil, water and other substances for commercial use, and to clean up various pumps and tanks in facilities which handle oil and other substances.
Oil skimmers fall into two basic categories. One type of oil skimmer is intended to remove oil in a usable state, while the other removes oil along with assorted other impurities. Oil skimmers pop up in some surprising places; many restaurants, for example, have oil skimmers in their grease traps to prevent oil and grease from clogging their drains. The use of oil skimmers is also an important aspect of environmental cleanup.
There are a number of different ways in which an oil skimmer can work. Some rely on the simple operation of gravity, allowing oil to float to the top of the oil skimmer and then pushing the oil into a storage container. Other oil skimmers use belts, wheels, or rotating drums which are coated in substances which attract oil to pull oil from a contaminated fluid. Some fluids can be run through a centrifuge, which will pull the oil out of the liquid, while others are coalesced by being passed through a substance which will coagulate the oil and pull it out.
When quick containment is needed, some companies set up weir skimmers. These oil skimmers are floated on the water around the spill, and they allow water to flow through, but not oil. In these instances, the weirs serve two functions: they contain the spill, and they get a head start on cleanup. Cleanup personnel can also use hand held oil skimmers which essentially vacuum up the oil, while others deposit sponges or other absorbent materials into the spill to collect the oil so that it can be removed.
Oil skimmers come in various sizes, ranging from industrial oil skimmers which are designed to handle a high volume of contaminated material to smaller skimmers which are used by hand or on small spills. The sooner an oil skimmer is applied to an oil spill, the more successful it will be, as oil tends to spread into a slick, a very thin layer of oil which floats on top of water and other carrier fluids. Slicks are difficult to clean up since they are so thin, but they can deal a lot of damage.