Microbes engineered to clean-up oily residues, recover oil from sand

October 17th, 2008 - 12:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 17 (IANS) A collection of microbes known as Bio-Tiger that can be used for environmental clean-up and addressing energy needs has been developed by researchers. “DOE (US Department of Energy) had originally funded us to work with our Polish counterparts to develop a microbe-based method for cleaning up oil-contaminated soils,” explained Robin Brigmon, Savannah River National Lab (SRNL) engineer.

From that lagoon, they identified microbes that could break down the oil to carbon dioxide and other non-hazardous products. “The project was a great success,” Brigmon said. “The lagoon now has been cleaned up, and deer now can be seen grazing on it.”

Recent efforts have shown that Bio-Tiger naturally produces chemicals that may have other industrial uses as well. For example, Bio-Tiger can be applied directly for cleaning up oil residues on surfaces such as concrete slabs and building foundations.

Besides environmental cleanup uses, Bio-Tiger has recently been shown to be highly effective for increasing oil recovery from oil sands without added chemicals, according to a SRNL press release.

Oil sands (tar sands) are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous material. Currently, oil sands represent about 40 percent of Canada’s oil production. Approximately 20 percent of US crude and refined products come from Canada, much of it being from tar sands.

Oil sands are mined and processed to generate oil similar to that pumped from conventional wells, but extracting oil from these sands is more complex and requires more energy than standard oil recovery.

Current methods require multiple steps including heating, mechanical mixing, and chemical additions to extract hydrocarbons from the oil sands.

There have been concerns about the environmental impact of these operations, including concerns about the amount of water used in the process, energy cost to operate the systems.

An enhanced oil recovery process using Bio-Tiger could provide a means to maximise capacity and minimise environmental impact, while remaining cost effective.

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