Research partnership helps oil-contaminated wildlife


Researchers at Victoria University have joined forces with Phillip Island Nature Parks to develop a ‘wand’ that collects magnetic particles to dry-clean the feathers of penguins and other birds contaminated by oil spills.

The technology is designed to save animals that get drenched in oil after a spill, and is gentler and less disruptive than existing detergent-based cleaning methods. Instead surfactants (a type of detergent), it uses magnetic particle technology to strip contaminants from bird plumage.

The wand technology is cheaper, faster and more effective than other cleaning methods, and improves the survival chances of affected wildlife. Its portability is a key advantage, with many oil spills happening in remote locations. Rescuers can quickly remove the more toxic and corrosive components of a contaminant when they first encounter an affected animal.

The device also allows for the oil-laden particles removed from wildlife to be collected and disposed of, or recycled, in an eco-friendly way that avoids further pollution.

“I am very proud of the contribution of both parties who have invested so many years of solid research and testing into the development of this technology,” says Phillip Island Nature Parks CEO, Matthew Jackson.

“It will make a big difference in wildlife protection and has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of oil-contaminated wildlife around the world—especially penguins.”

Research collaboration delivers results

The collaboration between Victoria University’s Animal Rehabilitation Technology group and Phillip Island Nature Parks demonstrates just how much can be achieved when researchers and organisations come together in pursuit of a common goal.

The university researchers provided physical and analytical chemistry expertise and Phillip Island Nature Parks contributed wildlife biology skills.

The wand technology’s ability to rehabilitate wildlife, including endangered species, is attracting attention in Australia and globally.

In 2013 the research partners won a prestigious Banksia Sustainability Award in recognition of their leadership on the project and in 2014 the project received $250,000 in prize money as a finalist in the Australian Google Impact Challenge.

The magnetic particle wand

The magnetic particle wand

And the collaborative journey of the university and Phillip Island Nature Parks is continuing. While the project was initially focused on wildlife conservation, both parties believe their magnetic particle wand technology has broader commercial potential and are now exploring other applications.

They have filed a patent for the oil-sequestering technology and are pursuing its application in domestic and industrial markets for clean-ups of oil, paint and grease spills. And the search is on for a commercial partner to help them get the technology to market.

Phillip Island Nature Parks is part of the Victorian Government. The Australian Research Council, Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Australian Maritime Safety Authority, BHP Billiton and Penguin Foundation have also provided financial support for the project, as has the Australian Government’s Collaborative Research Network.

To drive innovation and business growth, the Australian Government is supporting better links between research institutions and industry. The government’s annual National Survey of Research Commercialisation collects data on how Australia’s publicly funded research system collaborates with industry to transfer knowledge and commercialise research.

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