IG NOBEL FOLLOW-UP--
Troy, Oil, and the Balance of Power
Ig Winner Announces Petro Breakthrough, Survives Industrial Espionage
[This report was posted January 2, 2002]
Troy Hurtubise, having survived ordeals in which his home-built suit of armor was bearly tested against a Kodiak bear and, a year before that, his mettle was tested against one of the World Trade Center hijackers, announced a biochemical breakthrough that could change the balance of power.
Troy is the winner of the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize in the field of Safety Engineering. His Ig citation reads:
Troy Hurtubise, of North Bay, Ontario, for developing, and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears. [REFERENCE: "Project Grizzly", produced by the National Film Board of Canada.]
So what happened? Here is an account from a recent edition of Troy's home town newspaper, the North Bay Nugget:
More Troy Adventures
by Phil Novak
North Bay, Ontario -
Troy Hurtubise says a formula he created to separate oil from sand has troubled the waters of his life.
"I had break-in after break-in, in the garage and in the house. The lab was destroyed and there was nothing left. Whoever the hell did it, it's all gone. My phone has been tapped, I've been followed regularly, so I took the formula and just buried it somewhere. Just because I did some research and made a few calls."
Fire Suppressant Agent 333 - FSA 333 for short - was originally designed by the North Bay inventor and Project Grizzly star to put out certain types of blazes including oil fires, Hurtubise said.
"But when I tested it with an oil fire I had ignited in a tank of water I noticed it not only put out the fire, but drew the oil to the top of the water. It was really weird."
Hurtubise then contacted a company in Regina that cleaned up oil spills worldwide.
"I asked what the biggest problem was with oil spills on bodies of water, after the oil went into the water," Hurtubise said. "He said the problem wasn't oil in the water as much as it was when the oil hit a sandy beach. As soon as it gets into the sand, forget it. You'll never get it out. It's just a nightmare."
With this information in hand, Hurtubise went down to a North Bay beach, white plastic pail and shovel in hand, and scooped up some sand. Returning to his garage lab, he poured motor oil into the sand and then mixed in FSA 333 which, Hurtubise said, has Diet Coke as one of its active ingredients.
"I added some cold water and lo and behold, it separated the sand from the water and the oil. The oil actually floated to the top together with the FSA as a kind of sludge that you could pick off the top of the water with a Dixie cup. And clear water is what was left. Clear water."
The experiment got Hurtubise thinking about the Alberta tar sands, the largest reserves of bitumen in the world.
"They have enough oil down there to make the big OPEC blocks look stupid. They can supply us for a long, long, time. The trouble is they can only extract it using huge treatments of hot water and steam, and they need huge tailing ponds because of the dirty, toxic water that's a by-product," Hurtubise said. "And I can do it with cold water that stays clean."
But, as he soon realized, FSA 333 could also be used to extract oil from shale stone, the largest deposits of which are located in the United States.
Through his network of contacts, Hurtubise obtained several kilograms of shale rock, crushed it, heated it to about 200 F, added FSA and cold water "and then BANG! You get this huge segment of oil on the top."
At that point Hurtubise received a visit from two men who flashed badges and identified themselves as FBI.
"They say 'you don't understand Mr. Hurtubise. This can change the balance of power. We are not here to scare or threaten you. We are saying that you have a wife and child to take care of and you don't know what you are into'," Hurtubise said.
The men explained if the U.S. was able to economically extract oil from shale stone using his formula, it would not have to depend on OPEC and price-setting power of the international cartel.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter would not say whether the agency had sent any agents to question Hurtubise. "These are internal and confidential matters kept within the bureau," he said.
Soon after the visit Hurtubise said things started "going crazy." He believes the strain, and suggestions his family might be at risk, were among the factors that led to his pending divorce.
Still his formula as created interest in Edmonton, the centre for oil sands research.
"Any new technology that could reduce the cost or the environmental implications of extracting oil from the tar sands would obviously benefit this Canadian industry, which is attempting produce oil from extraordinarily large deposits," said Bruce Stewart, president of CANMET, a federal government oil research institute in the Alberta capital. "I'd love to hear more about Mr. Hurtubise's innovation because if it can be proven to work in the field the impact could be significant."
He has also been invited to contact Suncor, one of the two biggest players in the oil sands business.
Hurtubise is so confident FSA 333 will work he's issued a challenge. "I don't care who you've got, but bring a sample of tar sands down and bring whatever scientist you want and I will pop the oil right out of the sand in front of him," he said. "Five minutes with cold water. How do you like that, sweetheart?
Then I'll scoop out some water from the demonstration and drink it. How's that for biodegradable."
We at the Annals of Improbable Research eagerly await news of Troy's next adventure, be it in or on land, sea, sky, or elsewhere.
© Copyright 2002 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
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