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Chula Faculty of Science is using oil-eating bacteria to tackle oil spills | Photo source Chula Faculty of Science

Oil-eating microbes clean-up spills

Sustainability

Researchers have used bacteria to develop bioproducts for treating ocean oil spills

Spotted: In January 2022, 47,000 litres of crude oil leaked out of a submarine pipeline in Thailand’s Rayong province, resulting in a major environmental disaster. The oil slick covered an area of approximately 47 square kilometers, devastating the marine ecosystem and harming the livelihoods of local fishermen. Although cleanup efforts have been underway since the incident occurred, there is still some residual pollution due to the fact that oil is difficult to remove from the ocean surface. In order to address this problem, researchers at Chula Faculty of Science have developed bioproducts that can be used to clean up oil spills in the ocean.

These products are based on oil-eating microbes that can break down the hydrocarbons in oil, making it easier to remove from the environment. The team is currently working on a pilot project to test the feasibility of using these bioproducts on a larger scale. If successful, this could provide a valuable tool for cleaning up future oil spills and protecting the marine environment.

According to international maritime law, all ships that transport oil are required to have a product on board that can be used to remove oil residue in the event of a spill. Currently, there is only one such product available on the market in Thailand. Associate Professor Dr. Onruthai Pinyakong, who led the research at Chula, noticed there wasn’t a product specific to Thailand’s unique, and very biodiverse, environment. For these reasons Dr. Onruthai’s research began in Thailand. She also found there was a good source of microorganisms with properties to degrade pollutants and petroleum in Thailand’s seas.

As with any water treatment process, oil cleanup treatment can be an expensive and energy-intensive process. Springwise has seen a number of innovations aimed at developing more sustainable treatment methods. Some recent projects include a process that uses algae to clean wastewater without the need for chemicals and an easy-to-use device that disinfects water using sunshine.

Written By: Katrina Lane

Email: thanita.w@chula.ac.th

Website: chula.ac.th/en/

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