BTEX compounds – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes – are natural components of crude oil and petroleum and are used in the synthesis of a wide range of useful materials and chemicals. They are also toxic, and benzene in particular is a known human carcinogen. As a result of extraction, transportation and refining processes, as well as accidental spills and leaks, BTEX compounds frequently pollute groundwater in all industrialized regions of the globe.
In Canada and elsewhere, remediation of contaminated sites is difficult and costly. When possible, affected soils are dug up and treated or disposed of offsite. Dr. Elizabeth Edwards of the University of Toronto is working with SiREM, a Canadian leader in bioremediation, to scale up and commercialize anaerobic bioaugmentation cultures for in situ BTEX remediation. These cultures were developed in Dr. Edwards’ lab where genomic knowledge was used to identify novel benzene-depleting microbial strains. Bioaugmentation, or the injection of specific microbes into contaminated sites, could significantly accelerate the rate of biodegradation, leading to the cleanup of these sites. How well the cultures perform this biodegradation should be understood in 1-3 years, leading to a cost-effective approach for cleanup of BTEX-contaminated sites.
If successful, this project would be the first commercial application of bioaugmentation for anaerobic BTEX degradation. It would lead to more widespread cleanup of contaminated sites where currently technologies are not feasible or too expensive. It will enable remediation of soils in-place, as opposed to excavation and removal. There are also significant economic benefits, as the global bioremediation market was conservatively estimated at $1.5 billion in 2009 and is now probably greater than $10 billion and continuing to grow.
Visit http://anaerobicbenzene.ca/ for more information.