Scientists develop biotechnology purify fracking wastewater

Scientists develop biotechnology to purify fracking wastewater

10:30 AM, 27th September 2012
Scientists develop biotechnology to purify fracking wastewater

MINNEAPOLIS, US: Fracking, the use of hydraulic pressure to release natural gas and oil from shale, has the potential to meet energy demands with US resources and stimulate the economy. However, the practice also carries possible environmental and public health risks, most notably water contamination.

A University of Minnesota research team is addressing this challenge by developing innovative biotechnology to purify fracking wastewater. Headed by Larry Wackett, Professor in Biological Sciences college, the team includes Alptekin Aksan, Professor in Science and Engineering college and Michael Sadowsky, Professor in Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences college.

The effort has earned a new $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Innovation (NSF-PFI) programme. Wackett, Aksan and Sadowksy, as well as CBS Dean Robert Elde, are co-investigators. If the project is successful, the team will be eligible for additional NSF funding.

The three scientists, all members of the university’s BioTechnology Institute, are using naturally-occurring bacteria embedded in porous silica materials to biodegrade contaminants in fracking wastewater, a technology they originally developed to remove agricultural pesticides from soil and water. They now have the ability to customize the technology to degrade chemicals in water used for fracking. Their goal is to make the water suitable for reuse in fracking of other wells and significantly reduce the amount of water used by industry.

The team will work with Tundra Companies of White Bear Lake on silica encapsulation technologies and Luca Technologies of Boulder on a related effort - using encapsulated microbes to recover natural gas from depleted coal beds. The companies see a business opportunity in helping the US meet its energy needs domestically. The university’s role is to further develop a platform technology that could be used by these and other companies.

During fracking chemicals present deep below the Earth’s surface, as well as chemicals used in fracking may contaminate water. Evaporation and filtration, the current treatment methods, are expensive. Industrial scale evaporation and filtration are energy intensive, and both methods leave behind a chemical residue that presents a disposal challenge.

The research team understands public concerns about the environmental impact of fracking, as well as industry concerns about misinformation related to risks, said Elde. A leading research institution, the University of Minnesota has reached out to the business community, via its large alumni network, to work together on these issues.

“The University of Minnesota is not taking sides in the fracking debate. There are many efforts ongoing to improve the treatment of water used in fracking and we feel that biotechnology can play a significant role in the overall effort,” said Wackett.

© Regents of the University of Minnesota News

 

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