When a group of University of Oklahoma researchers began studying the environmental fate of spilt petroleum, a problem that has plagued the energy industry for decades, they did not expect to eventually isolate a community of microorganisms capable of converting hydrocarbons into natural gas.
The researchers found that the groundbreaking processknown as anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolismcan be used to stimulate methane gas production from older, more mature oil reservoirs like those in Oklahoma. The work has now led to the recognition that similar microorganisms may also be involved in problems ranging from the deterioration of fuels to the corrosion of pipelines.
A new OU initiative led by Joseph Suflita, Director of the Institute for Energy and Environment within the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, brings together researchers from multiple disciplines and departments to attack the corrosion problems affecting pipelines, storage tanks and tankers as well as the deterioration of fuels inside such facilities. Suflita says, "The OU initiative is the only major U.S. initiative of its kind devoted to the problem of biodeterioration and biocorrosion."
Biodeterioration and biocorrosion are fundamental microbiological processes that can cause pipelines, storage facilities and tankers to leak and contaminate the environment. "First, we have to understand how Mother Nature cleans up these spills and we can do this by studying the way microorganisms interact with hydrocarbons," says Suflita. OU researchers have isolated some interesting organisms that metabolize hydrocarbons in the absence of oxygeninsight that was lacking for a long time.
OU researchers have extended their studies to how energy is produced in this country by investigating biocorrosion that leads to pipeline failures on the North Slope of Alaska. "We want to better understand how organisms eat through these pipelines. Several fundamental mechanisms cause this
|Contact: Jana Smith|
University of Oklahoma