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RIPI Conducts Oil Spill Bioremediation Projects

Research Institute of Petroleum Industry (RIPI) has developed technical knowhow for two important projects – oil spill cleanup with microorganisms and designing sensors to detect oil spills. That is in line with the RIPI's plan to reduce oil contamination and protect the environment.

RIPI Conducts Oil Spill Bioremediation Projects
(Saturday, February 24, 2018) 09:29
Ebrahim Alaei, head of the Energy and Environment Department of RIPI, said that four oil spill bioremediation projects have been carried out so far, using native microorganisms.

He said that hydrocarbon spill and its penetration into soil and underground water reservoirs were major challenges to the petroleum industry.

In Iran, where underground water is limited, this challenge must be dealt with more seriously and we need to develop the capacity to clean up possible oil spill.

"One of the state-of-the-art technologies in the world in this regard is oil spill bioremediation. A variety of microbes which naturally exist in the environment are able to utilize petroleum hydrocarbons as a source of carbon or energy, and transform them into water and carbon dioxide while they are growing and reproducing," Alaei said.

10-Year Continuous Work

Dr. Mehdi Dastgheib, director of RIPI environmental projects, said: "We have focused on isolating and identifying native oil-degrading microorganisms for some 10 years. During the first step we managed to create a collection of microbes endowed with such capacity. The advantage of native microbes is that they are fully compatible with local conditions and their application is less costly."

"After success in the lab and pilot phases, we managed to clean up 2,000 tonnes of oil-contaminated soil in Siri Island using indigenous microorganisms by applying landfarming method and finally turning the contaminated site into a green space," he said.

He added that for achieving higher efficiency, landfarming can be replaced by biopiles. He mentioned that biopile technology using active aeration was developed and applied in the Khangiran area for cleaning up an oil-contaminated mud pit containing about 10,000 tons of soil and sludge. This mud pit, which was like a lagoon, changed into a green landscape a year later, said Dastgheib, adding that this project was rewarded at the 7th research festival of Iranian oil industry. Another similar project has been implemented at Gavzard area of Gachsaran district, where an oil spill had occurred due to the fracture and oil leakage in a pipeline. "We used biopile technology with passive aeration system there" he said.

"Meantime, our survey of local microbes in research projects led into identification of several new bacterial species" he said. One of them was introduced to the scientific world as P. sinuspersisi after the name of Persian Gulf.

Dastgheib said that oil spills in Iran usually affect surface areas, emphasizing that these contaminants may penetrate into water tables gradually, if not treated properly. That means, he said, spread of pollution and growing threats to human beings.

"Therefore, in order to estimate the amount of such contamination in groundwater we need to drill monitoring wells. My colleagues have determined the extent and volume of oil plume in a contaminated region in Assaluyeh, which is known as Iran's gas hub, by using engineered monitoring wells," he said.

"Currently, we are combining SVE (soil vapor extraction) and biostimulation technologies for cleaning up groundwater. By creating vacuum in the drilled wells and using native microbes we cleaned up contaminated water tables to some extent in three years." he said, adding that this project has been rewarded by the European Green Association.

"Due to various ecological and hydrogeological conditions in Iran, the level of water tables varies in different areas. Therefore, working on underground waters across the country needs more sophisticated and more advanced technologies," he said. Dastgheib continued as saying that RIPI is working on novel technologies such as PRB (permeable reactive barrier) to clean up oil spills in deep ground waters but this technology is still in the pilot stage.

An important point that must be taken into consideration is that Iran's technology in oil spill bioremediation is thoroughly based on local and domestic potentials. "At international exhibitions held in regional countries we have seen neighboring petro-states willing to use Iran's technology," said Dastgheib.

"Currently, RIPI’s oil spill bioremediation technology has become well-characterized and established in a way that private knowledge-based companies can carry out such projects in large fields in collaboration with RIPI by using our know-how," he added.

“At RIPI, our applied research projects are aimed at serving the real needs of the industry. Therefore, our research achievements were not limited to the lab stage," he said. "We are now able to implement our environmental projects at different site conditions based on potentialities and budget earmarked by clients," said Dastgheib. He added that new projects were set to start in oil-producing areas in different parts of Iran in near future.

Oil Pollutants' Detection Sensors

Another achievement of RIPI in the environment is designing and manufacturing sensors that would detect environmental contaminants.

Hamideh Samari Jahromi, senior researcher at RIPI, said 17 sensors had been designed and built by Iranian researchers to detect oil pollutants.

"Alongside indigenization of technologies for removing contaminants from the environment, we need special tools and sensors to detect them," she said.

Samari Jahromi added that within the framework of the 4th Four-Year Economic Development Plan, a similar project had been carried out in cooperation with the National Iranian Oil Company's Directorate of Research and Technology. That project pertained to 17 sensors that could detect CO, NO, SO2, H2S, VOC, BTEX, O2,and methane in air, TPH and PAH in soil and Phenol, oil spill, TPH, COD and Heavy metals in water. "Of those 17 sensors, 12 sensors have been finalized as portable tools," she said.

Furthermore, she added, the precision and accuracy of these sensors have been tested at modern labs of RIPI in collaboration with Malek Ashtar University.

Samari Jahromi said the Environment Division of RIPI was tasked with monitoring different environmental contaminants. "In light of the obligation of this center and the requirement by the Iranian Department of the Environment for oil companies in Iran to protect the environment, we have developed necessary tools to detect and control oil contaminants."

In 2013, the Environment Division of RIPI formulated a project for building sensors to detect environmental pollution resulting from upstream oil operations. The proposal, which was based on advanced technologies, was submitted to NIOC.

Given the necessity of application of this technology, two NIOC subsidiaries – Iranian Offshore Oil Company (IOOC) and Iran Oil Terminals Company (IOTC) – were chosen as end-users of this project. The project started in 2014.

"At the beginning, in order to achieve our objectives more effectively, we moved to build and equip a lab to have everything for designing and manufacturing a sensor from A to Z," said Samari Jahromi. "After that we started detecting contaminants targeted by clients. In the end 17 contaminants were detected and registered. In the next stage, upon the request of the client the technology roadmap for these sensors was developed for NIOC subsidiaries."

"Then, required technologies and knowhow for building sensors of 17 contaminants were studied," she said.

Ten sensors are to detect NO, CO, BTEX, VOC, SO2, O2, methane, H2S, and LPG, four sensors are aimed at being used in the liquid phase of heavy metals like mercury and cadmium, phenol compounds and COD and oil spills, and three sensors for PAH and TPH (in aqueous and solid phases).

Samari Jahromi said that the client had given the affirmation for the project to go ahead after the successful field test of these sensors.

"In each sensor, some certain sort of technology is used. For example, in soil sensors, fiber optics is used. For air sensors, we build a portable device in which four sensors run simultaneously. This is the new solid state technology. In fact, we use nanotechnology to make sensors more capable and more sensitive. The foreign and commercialized prototypes of these sensors use microtechnology," she said.

Samari Jahromi said: "For hydrosensors we tested sensors of heavy metals, COD and aromatic compounds. Therefore, we are now ready to receive endorsement from domestic and foreign standard organizations for sensors."

She said that laser-based oil spill sensor was one of widely used sensors. This sensor is set to be installed early next year on Iran's largest oil export terminal in Kharg Island in cooperation with Malek Ashtar University.

"In terms of environmental sensors, the US, Canada and Japan are placed from first to third in the world. Universities in Iran stepped into this sector years ago and so far have made some research achievements. However, these efforts have yet to reach the stage of manufacturing of a commercial device. RIPI has aimed to achieve this important objective in its sensor development roadmap. Currently, numerous sensors are annually used in Iran's gas, petroleum and petrochemical sectors in different models. That indicates the high profitability of working on sensors," the senior researcher said.

Samari Jahromi said the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC) had recently requested sensors from the RIPI in light of the distribution of biosensors roadmap in the petroleum industry.

"The NIGC officials visited RIPI labs and filed requests for cooperation," she said. "Currently, in order to protect domestic manufacturing, many companies affiliated with the petroleum industry prefer Iranian sensors to foreign ones" added Samari Jahromi.

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