What is Bioremediation

Bioremediation is a branch of biotechnology which deals with the use of living organisms such as microbes and bacteria to remove contaminants, pollutants and toxins from soil and water. It can be used to clean up environmental problems like an oil spill or contaminated groundwater.

BREAKING DOWN Bioremediation

Bioremediation relies on stimulating the growth of certain microbes that use contaminants like oil, solvents, and pesticides as a source of food and energy. These microbes consume the contaminants, converting them into small amounts of water and harmless gases like carbon dioxide. Effective bioremediation needs a combination of the right temperature, nutrients, and food; otherwise, it may take much longer for the cleanup of contaminants. If conditions are not favorable for bioremediation, they can be improved by adding “amendments” to the environment, such as molasses, vegetable oil or simply air. These amendments create optimum conditions for microbes to flourish and complete the bioremediation process.

Bioremediation can either be done in situ, at the site of the contamination itself, or ex situ, at a location away from the site. Ex situ bioremediation may be necessary if the climate is too cold for microbe activity, or the soil is too dense for nutrients to be spread evenly. Ex situ bioremediation may require digging up the soil and cleaning it above ground, which may greatly increase the cost of the process.

The process of bioremediation can take anywhere from a few months to several years. The amount of time required depends on variables such as the size of the contaminated area, the concentration of contaminants, conditions such as temperature and soil density, and whether bioremediation will take place in situ or ex situ.

Advantages of Bioremediation

Bioremediation has a number of advantages over other cleanup methods. As it only uses natural processes, it is a relatively green method that causes less damage to ecosystems. It often takes place underground, as amendments and microbes can be pumped underground to clean up contaminants in ground water and soil; therefore, it does not cause much disruption to nearby communities.

The process of bioremediation creates few harmful byproducts, since contaminants and pollutants are converted into water and harmless gases like carbon dioxide. Finally, bioremediations is cheaper than most cleanup methods, as it does not require a great deal of equipment or labor. As of 2012, bioremediation has been used to clean up more than 100 Superfund sites around the United States.