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Lithuanian scientists clean up at 2011 EUREKA Innovation Award

It is well known just how damaging oil can be to nature. It is also well known just how difficult it can be to clean up after a spill or contamination. Removing an oil spill or contamination from soil is hard and requires very different techniques to removing oil from water. A Lithuanian company, Biocentras, together with academic partners from Latvia and Lithuania, developed a technique that has so far cleaned over 22,000 tons of soil without the need for potentially harmful chemicals or genetically-modified technologies. This natural process transforms contaminated soil so that it can be used again for growing all kinds of plants.

Many of the existing solutions for the problem of cleaning contaminated soil rely on chemicals. For highly contaminated soil, larger amounts of chemicals are required, meaning that the potential for side-effects on the surrounding environment are increased. Other solutions use genetically-modified bacteria which have their own potential problems, including a lack of public trust.

In contrast, once the non-genetically-modified bacteria from the E! 2522 OPTISOIL CLEAN project have done their work, they simply die and become food to other forms of life. This provides a totally natural solution, known as biodegradation. The role of Biocentras is therefore one of optimising the use of the bacteria to provide the right amount and the best possible conditions. Not only is the process cleaner and more natural, but their internal studies suggest that it is one of the most efficient methods currently available.

The developed technology can be applied to soil contaminated by any concentration of oil or oil products. Usually biodegradation can be effective in 20 to 50 g/kg of pollution, and sometimes up to 100 g/kg. However, Biocentras manages to clean up oil sludge with up to 300 g/kg of pollutants.

The role of EUREKA

EUREKA played an important role in this project. By helping Biocentras understand how international R&D should be performed, they renewed their laboratory which has led to an on-going involvement in Europe's scientific and innovation markets.

This involvement includes working with partners based both in Lithuania and Latvia on this project. The Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania provided assistance from their Environmental Engineering Institute and their Process Control Department, where they helped to optimise most of the treatment processes. While the Latvian State Institute of Wood Chemistry also played a role by participating in the development of the phytoremediation stage.

Currently, this technology is mainly in use in Lithuania. Biocentras has a number of smaller clients and one larger client an oil refinery which has enabled them to continue their testing and perfecting of the method. They have now successfully treated over 22,000 tons of soil.

Monika Kavaliauske sees the next phase of development as taking the process into the warmer, oil-producing parts of the world. She says, 'We have no clients in the Middle East and are actively looking for them. There are potential applications for most of the world and we are keen to develop it further'.


Contact: Piotr Pogorzelski

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