New Brunswick

Late N.B. chemist's invention moves ahead

A new technology to cleanup oil and other contaminants in water has become a reality, a year after its New Brunswick inventor's death.
George Sutherland's patented oil cleanup technology was tested last week, a year after his death. (CBC)

A new technology to cleanup oil and other contaminants in water has become a reality, one year after its New Brunswick inventor's death.

George Sutherland was an award-winning chemist who got his doctorate at the University of New Brunswick.

Now, a process he patented proved itself last week in the oil fields of Texas.

Sutherland left a career at Dow Chemical Canada to pursue his dream back home in New Brunswick.

He invented tiny beads of plastic polymer that grabbed oil and other contaminants from water and floated to the surface.

He was developing the process to a commercial scale when he died of cancer a year ago.

"I promised him I would push and push until it was used in the field," said Brenda Moxon, president of his company — Sutherland Separation Systems Inc.

She and Sutherland became friends while he was developing his technology.

Moxon made connections with a consulting group in Winnipeg.

From N.B. to Texas

They hooked up with the owner of several oil wells in Abilene, Texas, and the inventor of a desalination system.

"I like to think that when George did pass away March 7 last year, he knew that I was pushing it forward. He knew that it was in capable hands to expand on the technology," Moxon said.

Last week, the research partners ran tests on wastewater from the wells in Texas.

The results were impressive, according to Ian Ireland, the project’s lead chemist.

"We managed to take the residual oil levels down to below the limits of detection on the equipment we had. And we produced water that was crystal clear, salt water that would then go to the desalination unit," Ireland said.

"With their unit they produced water that had total dissolved solid levels that were below 500 parts per million, which is one of the standards they use for drinking water quality."

For Moxon, she said it was an emotional moment.

"I think that the day that Abilene, Texas did a news release on it, we had a massive rainstorm here in New Brunswick. And as a friend of George and I said, we think it was George up there dancing hard on the rain clouds."

Sutherland's cleanup technology is attracting interest in Texas and will be tried on several other oil wells next month, Moxon said.