Accelerated biodegradation of petroleum hydrocarbon waste

  • Owen WardEmail author
  • Ajay Singh
  • J. Van Hamme
Review Paper


Conventional landfarming approaches to bioremediation of refinery and other petroleum sludges are not acceptable environmentally and are banned in most North American jurisdictions. While initial bioreactor-based systems for treatment of these sludges required batch-cycle process-times of 1–3 months, an accelerated process has now been developed which can be completed in 10–12 days. In this process, up to 99% of total petroleum hydrocarbons are degraded and the sludges are converted from hazardous to non-hazardous according to the United States EPA's toxicity characteristic leachate procedure criteria. Understanding and exploiting mechanisms to improve hydrocarbon accession to the degrading microorganisms was a key development component of the process. Contrasting physiological mechanisms were observed for different component organisms of the mixed culture with respect to their associations with the hydrocarbon substrate; and the beneficial effects of using surfactants were demonstrated. The mixed culture used in the process exhibited a capacity for high-rate degradation of volatile organic carbons and the potential use of the culture as a liquid biofilter was demonstrated. The culture was also effective as an inoculant for the bioaugmentation of total petroleum hydrocarbon-contaminated soil and as a de-emulsifier of oilfield emulsions and could transform some other environmental contaminants which are not predominant components of crude oil.


Mixed culture Biodegradation Petroleum hydrocarbons Bioremediation De-emulsification 


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Copyright information

© Society for Industrial Microbiology 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  2. 2.National Centre for Upgrading TechnologyDevonCanada

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