WHAT IS BIOREMEDIATION?
Currently, a rapidly changing and spreading branch of biotechnology, bioremediation, is one of the methods for oil remediation that uses biological activity to destroy contaminants. It is an ecologically friendly and cost-effective tool for the degradation of hydrophobic organic compounds (HOCs). HOCs are, in turn, found in contaminants of soil and ground-water, such as fuel and petroleum products. The remediation process is facilitated by the bacteria, from which “bio” comes in its name. Because bioremediation seems to be a promising alternative to the other traditional oil cleaning technologies, it is under constant development. But why do we need oil bioremediation?
Oil is a vital and adaptable resource that is utilized in a variety of ways for a wide range of purposes. Although global demand for crude oil decreased from 99.7 million barrels per day to 91 million barrels per day in 2021 due to the limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected to gradually rise again.
Figure 1. Demand for crude oil from 2006 to 2026 (million barrels per day vs years)
Figure 2. Kazakhstan crude oil production from July 2020 to June 2021 (Thousands of barrels per day vs. month and year)
With the increasing demand for crude oil, it is important to decrease the repercussions of such accidents as oil spills. Human activity causes the leakage of petroleum into the habitat leading to environmental problems. In 2020 approximately 1000 tonnes of oil spilled as the result of tanker incidents. Kazakhstan's oil manufacture is also increasing with its planned production of oil in 2021 of 85.3 million tons. The local areas with the most oil spills are detected to be southern parts of the Caspian Sea. One of the last significant oil spills in Kazakhstan was in June 2019 in Mangystau with an area of 40 by 60 meters.
The consequences of oil spills can be disastrous for the environment, human health, ecosystems, and socioeconomics. Marine life is particularly affected by oil spills.
Oiling - when oil physically coats the body of an animal; causes behavioral changes, the loss of eating ability, and the fixation of the insulating layer of marine animals, which, in turn, results in hypothermia.
Tainting - exposure to chemical contaminants; causes such severe health problems as heart damage, immune system deterioration, and stunted growth. Toxic compounds from oil enter fish and cannot be consumed by humans. This negatively impacts the seafood market, as fishing areas are getting closed for recovery from contamination.
One of the most crucial long-term repercussions of oil spills is their destructive effect on ecosystems' biodiversity.
Experts estimate the worth of products and services provided by ecosystems at 26 trillion euros per year or double the value of what humans produce every year.
EXISTING BIOREMEDIATION METHODS
Currently, there are 4 types of methods for oil remediation: chemical, physical, thermal, and biological (bioremediation). Chemical methods are based on chemical oxidation that eliminates harmful compounds in oil spills areas. It is a relatively quick remediation method but it may negatively affect the surrounding wildlife. Other oil clean-up methods are physical and include excavation and washing. In the first case, contaminated soil is physically transported to the area for disposal, while in the second case the contaminated site is washed with organic solvents that remove HOCs. While the emergency spill response, which uses synthetic chemicals, is effective for localized spills shortly after the event/accident, long-term response or management of untreated spills is less cost-effective, due to the high cost of chemicals for large spill areas, which threaten endemic flora & fauna. Thermal remediation methods involve thermal desorption and incineration which is again expensive and also causes environmental pollution. Finally, the biological method is bioremediation and is by far considered as the most optimal technique since it is efficient for the long-term management of oil spills, cheap, and can be applied in ecologically sensitive areas.
However, bioremediation also has some limitations that are important to consider. The disadvantages of bioremediation include the low rate of biodegradation of toxicants and the need for a thorough preliminary examination of the contaminated site to clarify the modes of biotechnological work.
Our team aims to improve the bioremediation process through synthetic biology,
making it safer, faster, and more efficient.
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