Biodeterioration of Fuels

  • R. N. Smith
Part of the Springer Series in Applied Biology book series (SSAPPL.BIOLOGY)


The biodeterioration of hydrocarbons only occurs when water is present, the active deteriogens growing either at the oil-water interface or in the aqueous phase. It is primarily trophic biodeterioration in which the hydrocarbon is used as a carbon and energy source and as such is synonymous with biodegradation. The only difference is that biodeterioration is biodegradation in the wrong place. Thus microbial degradation of fuel in the wing tanks of an aircraft is biodeterioration but the same process occurring in an oil slick is biodegradation. Biodegradation of hydrocarbons is a strictly aerobic process and degradation cannot occur under anaerobic conditions. This is because hydrocarbons, unlike carbohydrates, contain no oxygen. Hence those processes which take place during the fermentation of glucose, whereby the oxidised product following energy release itself becomes the ultimate hydrogen and electron acceptor to form alcohol, cannot occur. Paradoxically, this does not mean that biodeterioration will not take place under anaerobic conditions; trophic degradation can and does occur providing an alternative electron acceptor such as nitrate or sulphate is present. Whilst primary deterioration is trophic there may be secondary forms of spoilage which arise from microbial growth such as the migration of water droplets into the fuel, the accumulation of microbial slimes in the fuel and souring by hydrogen sulphide produced by the sulphate reducing bacteria.


Water Bottom Sulphate Reduce Bacterium Fuel Tank Fuel System Iron Sulphide 
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© Springer-Verlag London Limited 1991

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  • R. N. Smith

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