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Jul 6, 2011 6:33 PM by Drew Trafton

Floating Island offers unique solution to oil spills

BILLINGS - Bruce and Anne Kania, inventor and CEO of Floating Islands International, Inc., have a solution when it comes to cleaning up oil from an oil spill and keeping bodies of water clean in general: biofilm.

That's right: biofilm.

The trick is creating a surface area for the biofilm, which captures and even digests unwanted nutrients in the water.

"Floating Island International has developed an artificial wetland using natural floating islands as a model," said Anne Kania. "And we construct them with recycled materials, made with plastic drinking bottles."

The idea came to Bruce Kania as a form of ‘bio-mimicry'-- or solving human-made problems by using nature as a solution.

In this case, it meant using a matrix made of recycled plastic as a way to create a root system for plant life-which acted as that surface area for the biofilm.

"Over the course of time, the microbes that are in the water will form these bioflims and actually digest the hydrocarbons inside the island," said Anne Kania.

The Kania's live and run their prototype farm from Shepherd, Montana (you read that right).

Since its beginning in 2005, Floating Island International, Inc. has launched more than 1600 islands throughout the world.

The largest island they've created was a little larger than an acre (a floating habitat for birds) and the smallest was slightly larger than a shoe box (used for pond clarity).

And the islands work.

On the farm, a pond which initially had a 14 inch visibility now is seeing days of 11 feet of visibility with the presence of floating islands and synthetic fresh water coral.

Plus, the biofilm feeds fish populations in the ponds, which takes the nutrients out of the pond permanently when the fish are harvested from the pond.

Bruce Kania says at one pond on his property, fish were growing at record lengths due to the floating islands "triggering the food chain".

That trigger included a much more diverse population of aquatic life emerging in the ponds.

Bruce Kania says the island provides the benefits of wetlands which are rapidly disappearing in the United States.

"Wetlands are designed to clean-up water," said Bruce Kania.

The Yellowstone River runs along the Kania's property for about a mile-and the oil is very present along the banks there.

A subsidiary of Floating Island International Inc. ran testing of the floating islands during the BP oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico, but the plan never saw action.

The Kania's say they try to stay realistic when it comes to oil spills, but they believe they can be part of the solution when it comes to picking up the pieces during future spills.

"That's one of our long term goals. To get onto the oil spill response list beforehand, so we can be called upon once something like this happens," said Anne Kania.

Currently, the city of Billings is looking at creating a wetlands park on the west end of the city which may use the floating islands concept.

To learn more about Floating Island, watch the video along with this story or visit their website by clicking here.

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