Helping The Pros: Ideas That Might Help Stop The BP Oil Spill The BP oil spill is proving to be a tough problem to solve -- and many amateurs are coming up with what they think could be potential solutions, from controlled explosions to a Kevlar water balloon -- or using hay to separate the oil from seawater. The problem is getting those ideas to the right people.
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Helping The Pros: Amateur Ideas To Stop The Oil Spill

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Helping The Pros: Amateur Ideas To Stop The Oil Spill

Helping The Pros: Amateur Ideas To Stop The Oil Spill

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

BP's latest effort to contain the spill, an inverted funnel over the well head is showing some success. Meanwhile, on the Internet, talk radio, even on our own website, many people are offering their own quick fixes for the leak.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi wonders how laymen solutions might stack up against the pros.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Watching the news, my husband says this...

Mr. CHRISTOPHER LIBERTELLI: The environmental effects of all this oil spewing out are pretty bad. Could it be that worse if we knew that a small bomb would plug a hole? I say explode it.

NOGUCHI: He's no engineer. Neither is my colleague, Chris Arnold, who has his own ideas.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Could you take some sort of giant balloon made out of Kevlar or something and slide it over the end of the broken pipe, kind of like, you know, a water balloon you put over a faucet.

NOGUCHI: Sounds a little nutty, sure. But frankly, so do top hats, giant shears and mud plugs made of golf balls. And since BP itself is soliciting suggestions on its own website, I figured, why not give them a call?

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

BEVERLY: Thank you for calling BP's Horizon response line. My name is Beverly, may I have your name, please?

NOGUCHI: Yeah, it's Yuki Noguchi.

She tells me suggestions must be put in writing via the Web.

Okay, so I'm on the Deepwater Horizon response website. It gives me an Alternative Technology Response Form.

It asks for a brief description of the suggestion and materials needed.

(Soundbite of typing)

NOGUCHI: An explosive that can detonate underwater, or a giant Kevlar balloon.

I sent that in Tuesday, but haven't heard back. Jeremy Boddy, who lives in Canada, had an idea and he e-mailed it straight to Tony Hayward, BP's CEO. He suggested putting something like a car air bag into the pipe, filling it with air, then backfilling it with concrete.

Mr. JEREMY BODDY: It will cause an instant clog and the force of that will prevent anything from flowing through. And so I was thinking, well, why haven't they thought of that yet? I mean, it's so simple.

NOGUCHI: Boddy says he hasn't heard from Mr. Hayward.

Mr. BODDY: I kind of figured I probably wouldn't, because I'm nobody.

NOGUCHI: Dwayne Spradlin, however, is not nobody. Or at least he has 2,000 somebodies - scientists, engineers, and PhDs across the world - collaborating on their own solutions online. Spradlin runs a company called InnoCentive, which offers prize money to people who design ingenious solutions to complex engineering problems. The Gulf of Mexico project is InnoCentive's first pro bono effort and Spradlin says it's already drawn 600 submissions, many with diagrams and supporting evidence.

Mr. DWAYNE SPRADLIN (President and CEO, InnoCentive): The first example I'll give you is called explosive hydroforming. And what that means is using controlled explosions to actually take advantage of the force imbalance at these deep pressures in the water, so using it to actually pinch the tube shut using a set of controlled explosions. Very interesting.

NOGUCHI: Very interesting, indeed, and it validates my husband's small bomb theory. Then Spradlin offers other examples.

Mr. SPRADLIN: There's one that we put in the category we call angioplasty, right? So, using different tubes that you might fill with very dense liquids into the tube which you use to impede the flow or shut it off.

NOGUCHI: Sort of like that air bag. Spradlin then mentions this.

Mr. SPRADLIN: Essentially a funnel made out of very high strength, heavy-duty fabric.

NOGUCHI: Reinforced with Kevlar that might contain the oil.

When I tell ideas guy Dwayne Spradlin about my multiple deja vu moments, he's not surprised. Good ideas, he says, are often simple. But even Spradlin can't seem to get in touch with BP. He recently reached an executive there and was told to fill out the online suggestion form.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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