What Is Bioremediation (And Why Should We Care)?

What is Bioremediation?

How does it work?

What are its benefits?

Bioremediation usually brings up multiple questions and tends to bring out mixed emotions as to whether or not it has any authenticity. The following will be the first installment in a short series of posts that will attempt to (hopefully) answer some questions revolving around bioremediation, and how it can apply across multiple industries.

What exactly is bio-remediation, and how does it work? The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines bioremediation as “a treatment process that uses naturally occurring micro-organisms (yeast, fungi, or bacteria) to break down, or degrade, hazardous substances into less toxic or nontoxic substances.” In short, bioremediation is a process that uses naturally-occurring bacteria to eat and digest hydrocarbons. Once digested, the hydrocarbons are broken down into the harmless by-products of carbon dioxide and water.

For bacteria to work, they need food to eat. Heat, agitation and oxygen are catalysts for the process, allowing the bacteria to work at a faster pace. The bacteria will continue to feed until all hydrocarbons and other contaminants have been removed. Deprived of their food sources, they will die off, preventing any kind of contamination of their own.

Bioremediation offers several benefits over traditional cleanup methods. (Just for clarification, when referring to traditional cleanup methods, I am talking about T&D, which stands for Transportation and Disposal, also known as conducting a “Dig and Haul.”) There are three main advantages.

  • 1. Green. Probably the greatest benefit of using bioremediation is the fact that bioremediation is the absolute “greenest” or “earth friendly” cleanup method that has ever existed. It uses naturally-occurring bacteria to cleanup contaminants (hydrocarbons) that are also nature-made.
  • 2. Cost-Saving. Bioremediation, the majority of the time, is a far less expensive alternative to the traditional cleanup method. In a traditional cleanup, the contaminated soil or material must be dug out and removed from the area. It is then transported, offloaded at an approved disposal facility for a fee and replaced with uncontaminated, fresh soil or other material. At every stage in this process, there are high costs involved.

For example, we were recently discussing a cleanup that a major oil field services company had to complete. The total cost of their cleanup, including fines from the EPA, was right at $60,000! One might assume from the cost of the cleanup that the contaminated area was two or three truckloads of contaminated soil. That assumption could not be further from the truth. The contaminated soil that they had to remove was roughly 6 cubic yards, which filled about half of a truck. What was the amount of contaminate? Just 60 gallons of motor oil! Just some quick math on that will tell you that they paid around $10,000 per yard to conduct a T&D.

Bioremediation can cost anywhere from 50-75% less than that depending on the situation.

  • 3.Efficient. Another great benefit of bioremediation is the thoroughness and efficiency of the cleanup. Bacteria are living organisms. They will actually chase down and look for food to eat. Basically, they will seek out and find any and every little pocket of contaminant in the area. When using the traditional method you would have to remove an exponential amount of uncontaminated material to ensure the same amount of decontamination. This is highly inefficient in time, energy and cost (not to mention the negative environmental impact of removing uncontaminated topsoil). You would not want to change all four tires on a car if you only have a nail in one of them, would you? It is the same concept when comparing bioremediation to the traditional cleanup method.

Bioremediation is an excellent technology that is relatively simple to understand. Bioremediation is a naturally-occurring process that is earth-friendly, cost- and process-efficient. If you are ever in need of conducting a cleanup, I would suggest that you take a serious look at using a bioremediation cleanup. You will save time and money. And you may even get a nice, warm feeling, not from the sun (unless you are outside), but from using a “green, earth-friendly” technology.

Stay tuned for more information on other ways bioremediation can work for you!

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