Imagine if oil spills could be completely cleaned up soon after a marine accident. And this could be made possible thanks to none other than warrior microorganisms who attacked and completely broke down the oil. The latter might sound like a science fiction movie, but it actually happens in nature. Regardless of human methods used to deal with oil spills, the sea has its own self-cleaning abilities. Bacteria naturally appear in the sea wherever there is an oil leak and eat most of the pollution. But once crude oil is spilled in a pristine marine environment, it takes at least one week before such biodegradation processes begin to take effect.
Now, the EU funded project, Kill-Spill, due to be completed in 2016, is trying to accelerate the natural degradation processes of these microorganisms. “Our main objective is to come up with new technologies to enhance natural bio-degradation carried out by sea microbes by offering microbes everything necessary to eat up all the oil faster,” says project coordinator Nicolas Kalogerakis, professor of biochemical engineering at the Technical University of Crete, in Greece. This means that oil spills may be cleaned up faster and more easily without the use of chemical substances. In effect, humans may help nature do its job faster.
Depending on the type of crude oil, natural bioremediation takes about 12 months for light crudes.
According to Kalogerakis, Kill-Spill aims to reduce that to less than half by stimulating the microorganisms with the missing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous and by reducing toxicity of dispersants by using bio-based products such as biosurfactants. “For heavier crude oils we expect a similar trend,” Kalogerakis tells youris.com.