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Horel, A.A., 2009

Biodegradation of petroleum and alternative fuel hydrocarbons in moderate to cold climate

Bibliographic Reference

Horel, A.A., 2009, Biodegradation of petroleum and alternative fuel hydrocarbons in moderate to cold climate: University of Alaska Fairbanks, Ph.D. dissertation, 240 p.


Microbial degradation of hydrocarbon fuels contaminating soil in the Arctic and subarctic environment is a relatively slow process. Nevertheless, due to transportation and logistical limitations in rural Alaska, biodegradation might be the best and cheapest contaminant removal option. The aim of this thesis was to investigate the environmental effects on biodegradation by naturally occurring microorganisms for some innovative hydrocarbon fuels and to determine the overall fate of hydrocarbons in soil, including degradation by fungi and bacteria, volatilization, and transport in the soil. Three major types of fuels were investigated in small-scale microcosms and larger soil columns: Conventional diesel as a control substance, synthetic diesel (arctic grade Syntroleum), and different types of fish-oil-based biodiesel. The environmental conditions investigated included different soil types (sand and gravel), different temperatures (constant 6 degrees C, 20 degrees C, and fluctuating between 6 and 20 degrees C), moisture levels (from 2% to 12% GWC), fuel concentrations (from 500 to 20,000 mg fuel/kg soil) and nutrient dosages (0 or 300 mg N/kg soil). Microbial response times and growth phases were also investigated for different inoculum types. Conditions of 20 degrees C, 300 mg N/kg soil, sand, ~4,000 mg of fuel/kg soil and ~4% GWC were favorable for bioremediation, with a short lag phase lasting from one day to less than a week, and pronounced peaks of daily CO2 production between weeks 2 and 3. At suboptimal conditions, all phases were extended and slow, however at low temperatures steady metabolization continued over a longer time. The relative importance of fungal and bacterial remediation varied between fuel types. Diesel fuel degradation was mainly due to bacterial activities while fish biodiesel degradation occurred largely by mycoremediation. For Syntroleum both bacterial and fungal remediation played key roles. Volatilization contributed up to 13% to overall contaminant removal. In soil columns, degradation was slower than in microcosms, due to an uneven concentration profile of contaminants, nutrients, and oxygen with depth. In general, biodegradation showed promising results for soil remediation and the alternate fuel types were more biodegradable compared with conventional diesel fuel.

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