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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania » Eastern Regional Research Center » Sustainable Biofuels and Co-products Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #382468

Research Project: Commercial Products from Lipids and Fibers

Location: Sustainable Biofuels and Co-products Research

Title: Advancements and further research trends for microbial biosurfactants in the petroleum industry

item SHAH, RAJ - Koehler Instrument Company, Inc
item Ashby, Richard - Rick
item ARAGON, NATHAN - Stony Brook University

Submitted to: Inform
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/1/2021
Publication Date: 5/1/2021
Citation: Shah, R., Ashby, R.D., Aragon, N. 2021. Advancements and further research trends for microbial biosurfactants in the petroleum industry. Inform. 32(5):12-16.

Interpretive Summary: As efforts continue to increase for the implementation of greener products and processes, many industries are taking an active role in pursuing more eco-friendly products that will alleviate some of the known drawbacks to existing technologies. Surfactants are molecules that contain both hydrophobic (water-repelling) and hydrophilic (water-attracting) components and comprise a multi-billion-dollar industry owing to their use in numerous everyday applications such as in foods, medicines, toiletries, cleaners, automotive fluids, paints and coatings, and processing aids. Because of the large number of applications for surfactants, their disposal represents a significant environmental issue due to their presence in such large-scale applications as the detergent industry, and in applications where surfactants are intentionally released into the environment in order to accomplish a specific task such as with oil recovery and cleanup. This issue has necessitated a shift in focus from petroleum-based (typically not readily biodegradable) surfactants to the development of more eco-friendly microbially-produced biosurfactants that can be degraded to carbon dioxide and water. This article highlights some of the recent progress in applying biosurfactants in petroleum-related industries particularly in improved oil recovery efforts and in spill remediation.

Technical Abstract: Surfactants are utilized in many industrial applications. Unfortunately, most surfactants are not considered eco-friendly owing to their non-renewable nature and lack of biodegradability. As such, microbially produced biosurfactants are slowly finding applications that are traditionally reserved for petroleum-based analogues. Many surfactant applications require a release into the environment where a lack of biodegradability can cause pollution problems and in extreme situations long-term damage to the ecosystem. One such application is in the petroleum industry, particularly in the areas of oil recovery, refining and spill remediation. In these industries surfactants are intentionally released into the environment. By using biosurfactants in these applications, the same results can be realized without long term pollution problems. This article describes some of the specific applications of biosurfactants within the petroleum industry and details some specific studies focused on bitumen removal from tar sands, and microbially-enhanced oil recovery as well as in remediation efforts in oil spills and waste effluents.