Bioelectrochemical systems for bioremediation of petroleum hydrocarbons
Petroleum hydrocarbons are the primary constituents of oil, gasoline, diesel, and a variety of solvents and penetrating oils. Despite their benefits as energy sources, petroleum hydrocarbons pose risks to human health when inhaled, ingested or exposed to skin, and can also leak out of storage containers to contaminate soil and water.
Australia has upwards of 100,000 sites contaminated with petroleum products. Assessing these sites alone costs as much as $700 million annually, with remediation costing up to ten times more.
‘Bioelectrochemical remediation’ is emerging as a promising approach to cleaning up petroleum-contaminated sites. Bioelectrochemical remediation technologies (BERS) such as microbial fuel cells (MFCs) allow certain types of microorganisms to break down petroleum contaminants in water while generating electricity in the process. MFCs use bacteria to transform the chemical energy available in a bio-substrate, such as hydrocarbons, into electrical energy. However, fundamental aspects of bioelectrochemical remediation of petroleum hydrocarbons are still unknown.
My PhD is informing the development of an energy-recovering hydrocarbon remediation process by using microbial fuel cell systems. At a commercial scale, this technology has the potential to not only help create a cleaner, safer environment and protect human health, but also generate sufficient electrical energy to power itself.