Challenge of bioremediation of large industrial areas with Political-Economic-Social considerations: A story of Alberta oil sands tailings ponds

10 years of impact and development of bioremediation technologies towards OSPW

  • Date: 18 OCTOBER 2022  from 17:30 to 19:00

  • Event location: In presence and online event

  • Type: Lectures

The province of Alberta, in Canada, has the 3rd most abandon petroleum deposits in the world. The majority of the oil is in ‘tar-sands’ deposits found close to the earth’s surface, which allows for surface mining. The process used to release the bitumen (heavy oil) from the sand results in large quantities of a waste product known as tailings, with major fractions as mature fine tailings (MFT), oil sands process water (OSPW), and coke. The OSPW is collected in tailings ponds, and the water is highly toxic to most organisms. The principal component of this toxicity is a vast group of alkyl substituted and cyclo-aliphatic carboxylic acids known as naphthenic acids (NAs). An additional level of toxicity of tailings is a high heavy-metal load.  Bioremediation, through either anaerobic or aerobic microbial degradation of the NAs is a promising proposed solution to reduce the toxicity of the OSPW prior to environmental release. My research group hypothesized in the fall of 2011 that the difficulties to bioremediation of the NAs may be overcome by the use of selected enriched multispecies community biofilms, which then can be used on traditional support material in a ‘water treatment plant’ style reactor.  The story evolves from a bioreactor approach to a more passive approach and the use of plants. The story will note the successes and failures of this project which will be discussed in context of the timeline of the political-economic-social changes over the past 10 years that influenced and developing bioremediation technologies towards OSPW.

PhD students and researchers who are interested may request an attendance certificate.