Using Microbes to Improve Spill Cleanup

What are Microbes

Microbes (or microorganisms) are microscopic organisms that exist as a single cell or a colony of cells. All single-cell organisms are considered microbes. Thus, the term, microbes, is broad and encompasses a wide variety of organisms. Microbes exist in nearly every environment and can adapt to extreme conditions. Microbes are important in human life as they can perform a wide variety of tasks that are critical. These include:

  • Fermenting food
  • Treating sewage
  • Producing fuel and other bioactive compounds
  • Producing soil nutrients

We are going to focus on a developing application: consuming oil spills.

Using Microbes on Oil Spills

When an oil spill occurs, the first step is trying to absorb as many hydrocarbons as possible. In marine settings, this is crucial in stopping contamination. In most manufacturing and industrial settings, people will use absorbent pads, booms, socks, etc. These products absorb hydrocarbons and then can be disposed into a landfill (via a waste management company). However, there are some environmental issues with this cleanup process. The oil is not remediated as it is put into the landfill.

This is where microbes can help treat the hydrocarbons. After a spill, remediation companies will spray the spill with a microbe liquid suspension or spread a microbe culture powder. This occurs after the absorbents soaked up loose oil. So not all the oil is remediated by the microbes and some of it will be put into landfills. Having microbes within the absorbents and/or deployed immediately on the spill will improve the cleanup.

Eating the Oil

Microbes degrade or “eat” hydrocarbons and then break them down into water and carbon dioxide. Scientists measure oil contamination in soil or water by measuring Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH) in samples. They measure a site over time by regularly measuring TPH over time. If the microbes are doing their job, TPH should drop over time. If these microbes are present in absorbents, they can continue to degrade the absorbed oil even after the absorbents have been disposed of.

Green Boom

Green Boom manufactures 100% biodegradable oil-only absorbents that include microbes. Their proprietary biomass filler can be used to soak up oil spills and breakdown hydrocarbons all at the same time. The microbes in the absorbent products have been tested on the BP-Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill with spectacular results. After 4 weeks of testing, 95.3% of alkanes and 68.9% of PAHs were reduced. After 12 weeks of testing, 99.8% of hydrocarbons were degraded.

These absorbent products have superior absorbency and naturally breakdown. This reduces disposal costs and allows for an environmentally-friendly oil spill cleanup. All parts of the product are made with natural fibers and absorbed oil will degrade with microbes. Green Boom’s absorbents are designed to be fast wicking and will achieve up to 90% absorption capacity within the first 5 minutes of contact with oil.

Our New Partnership

Twin Specialties is proud to announce a new partnership with Green Boom to provide you 100% biodegradable absorbent products.

Twin Specialties can offer the following Green Boom absorbents:

Check out our absorbents page for technical product information. Contact Twin Specialties and we will work with you to improve your oil-spill cleanup response. Be on the lookout for more posts about our new biodegradable absorbents and case studies.

What are Biodegradable Lubricants?

As the world’s petroleum reserves are extracted, scarcity increases, thus driving oil and lubricant prices higher. This economic burden will force end-users and manufacturers to develop alternatives that are cost effective, readily available, and sustainable. The answer to these concerns are biodegradable lubricants.

Biodegradable Lubricants Defined

Biodegradable lubricants have the ability to degrade naturally by the actions of biological organisms. Petroleum is naturally occurring and is considered inherently biodegradable. However, that does not mean they can be marketed, sold, and treated as biodegradable. When we refer to biodegradable lubricants, we are discussing lubricants that are readily biodegradable.

Determining Biodegradability

Biodegradable lubricants must meet the ISO 9439 or OECD 301B standards. These standards state that a lubricant that has degraded by more than 60% within 28 days is readily biodegradable. The tests involve treating a lubricant sample with microorganisms in the presence of oxygen and measuring the CO2 produced by the microorganisms. As mentioned before, petroleum-based lubricants are inherently biodegradable, but not readily biodegradable because they fail to meet these standards. Petroleum-based lubricants naturally degrade at a rate of 15-35% in 28 days, falling short of the required 60%.

Additionally, the lubricant must be of “low toxicity.” There are a variety of tests used to determine toxicity. These tests involve fish, daphnia, and other organisms. In their pure form, mineral oil and vegetable oil show little toxicity, but lubricants are not just pure oil. As additives are incorporated into formulations, the toxicity increases. Additives are added to make up for any performance shortcomings of biodegradable base stocks.

Types of Biodegradable Base Stocks

Most biodegradable lubricants use vegetable oil, synthetic esters, polyalkylene glycols (PAGs), or a combination of these as base stocks. Vegetable oils have been used for years when petroleum was in short supply. They were popular during World War I and World War II due to oil rationing and came back in popularity during oil embargo in the 1970s. Vegetable oils declined in popularity due to the availability of low-cost oil after Desert Storm. Their popularity is beginning to rise as more manufacturers and end-users are faced with climate change and sustainability concerns. Some common vegetable oils used are soybean oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil. To improve performance, farmers are beginning to grow genetically modified crops that are designed and engineered for use in lubricants.

Synthetic base stocks, such as esters and PAGs, are also used to boost performance when vegetable oils cannot get the job done. PAGs are effective, however they have a few issues that should be considered. PAGs are incompatible with other oils and can cause problems if inadvertently mixed with non-PAG oils. PAGs can also react poorly with seals and paints. This is why synthetic esters are preferred for biodegradable lubricants. Synthetic esters are typically added to vegetable-oil based lubricants to improve low temperature properties. These serve better than light mineral oils as synthetic esters are less toxic and more biodegradable.

Biodegradable Lubricant Products

Many applications and machines now can be lubricated with biodegradable lubricants and meet all performance requirements. Products that can be composed of soybean oils include:

  • Food grade hydraulic fluids and greases
  • Automotive, railroad, and machine greases
  • Tractor transmission and industrial hydraulic fluids
  • Chainsaw bar oils
  • Gear lubricants
  • Compressor oils
  • Transmission and transformer line cooling fluids

Many more products are in development and could become viable in lubricant markets soon. These include:

  • Two-cycle engine oils
  • Metalworking fluids
  • Specialty lubricants

With more resources and demand for biodegradable lubricants, engineers and manufacturers can research and develop more products that perform more applications, perform better than mineral oils, and remain price competitive.

Biodegradable lubricants are highly popular in applications and industries where environmental and safety concerns are high. Marine and agricultural industries need these lubricants as contamination could have devastating effects. According to Total Lubricants, a single liter of oil can pollute as much as 1,000,000 liters of water. In those applications, biodegradable lubricants are essential. Some government regulations ensure that these industries use biodegradable lubricants that do not harm consumers and operators in the event of leakage.

Twin Specialties Offers Biodegradable Lubricants

No matter your application or environmental requirements, Twin Specialties can meet your manufacturing, marine, or agricultural needs. We offer a variety of lubricants including: Shell Naturelle, Castrol Performance Bio, and various Food Grade lubricants. Contact Twin Specialties for a quote.