BACTERIAL bIOREMEDIATION SYSTEMS

In some cases it's not practical to pass contaminated water directly through a bacterial filtration system. Most often this is due to the contamination event occurring either in a large body of water or on land. In either case, a working solution to the problem can involve culturing the appropriate bacteria that will feed upon the contamination (food) source and releasing the 'bugs' into the contaminated zone. While this sounds like a simple enough approach, great care must be taken to insure the correct organisms are used for the job at hand. Temperature, pH, salinity, oxygen levels (DO), etc. all can have a dramatic impact on the success (or failure) of this endeavor. Bioremediation/bioaugmentation is definitely not a 'one size fits all' solution to a problem. Remember...universal solutions universally work well on nothing!

BioFilter Systems can provide a wide range of equipment, custom tailored to fit your unique situation. Please give us a call so we can discuss your objectives and determine if we can be of service.

Below is an open letter regarding the ongoing situation in the Gulf of Mexico

 

June 17, 2010
 

Re:  Deepwater Horizon response

To All Spill Responders and other interested parties:

            With this letter, we submit for your review our proposal for supplementing (not necessarily supplanting) and supporting more traditional means (booms and/or chemical detergent and dispersant agents) being used in remediating oil contamination in coastal waters, including estuarine grass and marsh lands, caused by the ever-encroaching Deepwater Horizon drilling catastrophe.  Biofilter Systems, LLC (the “Company”), located in Gainesville, Florida, is a proven industry leader in the fields of bioreactor and biofiltration system technologies.  (You may learn more about the Company’s products at www.biolfilter.com).  As a consequence of its biofiltration capabilities and technologies, the Company has acquired a unique understanding and valuable know-how in cultivating various micro-flora on a larger scale, such as those typically used in bioremediation of oil spills (i.e., pseudomonas, flavobacterium, arthrobacter and azotobacter).  The Company has invaluable experience with the bioremediation of oil contaminants, and has secured access to external resources that the Company believes can provide additional expertise if needed.

            We believe that our proposed approach solves a myriad of problems that might otherwise make bioremediation cost prohibitive or otherwise less attractive given the current body of scientific literature.  Our solution involves bioremediation of oil contamination through the use of so-called “petroleum-eating” bacteria, which we propose to culture (e.g., produce) locally for faster and more effective on-site or near-site deployment.

            Needless to say, oil spills can cause serious damage to marine wetland ecosystems.  Oil spills on coastal wetlands not only damage plants but also have serious consequences for the wildlife and other organisms that rely on the wetlands as habitats and nursery grounds. These impacts include obvious immediate consequences, such as widespread animal mortality due to smothering and toxic effects, which may persist long-term.

             Bioremediation is an emerging technology that involves the addition of materials (e.g. nutrients or other growth-limiting cosubstrates) to contaminated environments to accelerate the natural biodegradation processes (OAT, 1991).  Scientists have recognized this technology to be one of the least intrusive methods, and bioremediation has been shown to be an effective tool for the treatment of oil spills in medium and low-energy marine shorelines (Lee et al, 1997; Swannell et al., 1996; Venosa et al., 1996, Zhu et al., 2001).  

Bioremediation using bacterial/microbial means has proven to be an accepted and effective remediation device when combating oil spills on soil and in waterways, and can be used alone or in conjunction with more traditional means (such as booms, dispersants, etc.).  The use of bacteria to remediate oil and fuel contaminated water and soil is well documented (US Congress, 1991, EPA, 2001).  In theory, this type of bioremediation involves nothing more than connecting natural predator (so-called petroleum-eating bacteria) with prey in sufficient number to neutralize the deleterious effects of unleashed petroleum. These bacteria work on both surface and subsurface contaminants, and regardless of the form (e.g., tar balls, “weathered oil,” surface slicks, etc.) affecting a particular area (the efficacy on the different fractions of oil contamination of which are summarized in the 2001 EPA reference).  We believe that our proposal works best in situations those situations involving marine shorelines, coastal grasslands or wetlands and inlet waterways—areas where access may be limited and environmental conditions are most dynamic--and thus form our immediate focus. 

A variety of naturally occurring bacterial microbes do exist capable of metabolizing hydrocarbons—some indigenous and some not.  While it might go without saying, to be effective the bacteria must therefore necessarily be applied to the contaminated area while alive and robust. Our proposal allows culturing and quicker deployment of micro-flora indigenous to the site sought to be remediated, necessarily making the applied micro-flora more robust. 

The EPA found that success of oil spill bioremediation depends on our ability to establish and maintain conditions that favor enhanced oil biodegradation rates in the contaminated environment. Environmental factors affecting oil biodegradation include temperature, nutrients, oxygen, pH, and salinity.  Our proposal allows for quicker production changes to account for the effects in such variables (or changes to variables brought on by local conditions, such as weather patterns) from locale to locale. 

            Perhaps our proposal weighs in most heavily when one examines traditional costs associated with bioremediation.  Costs associated with traditional deployments of bacteria in the bioremediation of oil contamination can be prohibitive, and logistics can be problematic especially if the areas targeted for bioremediation are widespread, geographically dispersed or in area difficult to access or environmentally sensitive (i.e., grasslands, marshes or other wetlands).  The bacteria must also be cultured and shipped in water, in which it lives until it is applied.  As a consequence of the product’s specialty nature and limited market, petroleum-eating bacteria (as most bacteria used in bioremediation processes) have been traditionally cultured in centralized production facilities, often located many miles away from the target remediation site, and these production facilities are generally limited in number and capacity.  In addition, because of the limited number of existing production facilities, deployment of the finished batches of cultured bacteria (i.e., living colonies of bacteria produced) usually involves transporting large volumes of fluid, mainly of water, over long distances (typically by tank truck, tank rail or perhaps by air) to the target remediation areas.   

The nature of the finished bacterial solution, namely being live natural bacteria, requires transport under closed or sealed tanks that have been previously sterilized in order to prevent contamination, and requires constant refrigeration except perhaps in the coldest environments.  In addition, once transported to a holding area pending final application, the finished solution must be stored locally pending use, perhaps in other sterilized, climate-controlled or refrigerated holding vessels.  (Petroleum-eating bacteria generally require storage at 50F during long-distance shipping, since they have an extremely short shelf-life.)  Moreover, the finished solution consists primarily of water (in terms of volume and mass), which by way of contrast weighs approximately 8 lbs. per gallon (versus the fractional weight of the active biological ingredient).  In other words, purchasers of the finished, cultured bacteria bear an extraordinary expense of transporting cooled water.  Additionally, remediation areas may require several treatments or applications of significant amounts of finished product to be effective. Therefore, shipping, handling and storage costs associated with large quantities of finished, bacterial solutions produced at locations far away from the target remediation sites, can be exorbitant.

The Company’s innovation mitigates many of these inherent problems by locally deploying one or more individual, modular thermally-controlled fermentation units (which may also be deployed as mobile production units) at or near the target remediation site, and culturing or producing finished product in the quantities needed, when needed.  The system overcomes capacity issues by its ability to deploy any number of individual fermentation units, the ultimate number of which is limited only by physical space and available water and power.  These fermentation units use local water resources, and only small batches of “starter” or highly concentrated batches of bacteria or innocula, which is better physically and economically suited for long-distance shipping and special handling.  These starter batches, being in concentrated form, have a longer shelf-life (6 weeks or so under proper refrigeration) than finished product, and can be more easily stored locally.  Our system then takes the innocula, and from it locally cultures or produces exponentially larger batches or colonies for use as finished product.

The Company’s patent-pending system can be scaled, from one to any number of fermentation or production units at a particular location (suitable space being the only real restriction).  A standard fermentation unit can quickly produce 2,000+ gallons of finished product, without suffering the time delay and expense involved in constructing larger, more permanent tank farms, and the finished contents deployed with minimal shipping, handling and storage.  These units can also be mounted on mobile platforms as well (trucks, trailers, and barges, for example).  Using more than one fermentation tank in a mini-“tank” farm system also assures more control of risks associated with human error and biological contaminants, both of which pose grave threats to successfully growing bacteria.  The system can be tailored to work with the growth conditions required of any particular family or consortia of bacteria, and can be quickly modified on site if necessary.  A fully installed system (or some portion of its capacity) can also be readily moved and redeployed elsewhere as and when needed.  A platform or some other fixed platform (which include solid ground areas), electricity and a local water source serve as all of this innovative system’s external needs.   

The Company has been in contact with numerous suppliers of bacteria that have been used effectively around the world in remediating oil spills.  However, the Company also realizes that certain strains have been used under certain conditions (e.g., cold water, open water, freshwater, etc.), which may not indicate effectiveness in a saline environment such as the warm Gulf or Florida’s local waters.  In other words, a significant number of variables do and will exist, and may differ from locale to locale.  Therefore, at this time, the Company chooses to implement a local approach to better respond to diverse factors, to work with one or more spill responders, laboratories and governmental agencies in determining the strain or consortia most promising given the local environmental conditions in which the bioremediation measures are sought to be employed.  The Company does, however, have access to its own sources of innocula if desired.

             The Company’s proposal allows for more rapid responses to the oil contamination sites wherever they may emerge and to the dynamic nature of a contamination crisis, both in terms of shifting locations and changes in magnitude or conditions.  It also permits for more rapid modifications, if necessary, in cultivation materials and/or procedures, to changes in factors such as pH, salinity, oxygen rates, growing-media, etc., as well as generally allowing for much quicker response times when operating in dynamic natural environs.  In sum, the Company’s proposed approach:

         Substantially reduced costs in conducting bioremediation activities.

         Greatly increased efficiency and effectiveness in conducting bioremediation activities.

         Greater control over production operations and more flexibility in responding to potential impacts of local environmental factors.

         Greater potential for timely treatment of sensitive and restricted-access or remote areas.

         Ability to deploy local resources in cultivating or producing and applying finished product.

         Ability to rapidly respond to the contamination sites wherever they may emerge, and to the dynamic nature of a contamination crisis, both in terms of shifting locations and changes in magnitude or conditions.

         Employment of a local workforce.

         Overall, a much, much more efficient expenditure of limited financial resources.

We believe that our proposal presents a vastly more economical and effective approach for producing and deploying whatever strain of bacterium (or consortia thereof) that spill responders might choose for a particular application.   

This proposal does not intend to be a white paper on petroleum-eating bacteria or the environmental risks associated with using it.  The Exxon Valdez experience, along with the use of bio-remedial means in several other oil calamities occurring in other parts of the world, have been well documented and studied.  On the Company’s website, we have assembled some materials in a data room that you, or any other spill responder, may access to learn more by way of background about the biological materials previously discussed.  If it is not up yet, please check back for the link.

            We look forward to hearing from you, and assisting you in any way.  The lines of communication are always open, but please use email as the initial means of contact until we have completed our pending relocation.  Until then, we thank you for your time.  

 

            Biofilter Systems, LLC

 

 

 

 

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