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The eco-friendly solution to clean oil spills and oily sludge

Environmental hazards caused by oil spills include

  • Threat of swift-spreading fires, both on land and in water
  • Large-scale loss biodiversity, more so for marine life
  • Ground water pollution due to percolation
  • Air pollution due to evaporation

Oily sludge – a hydrocarbon waste generated by oil refineries – also poses a serious threat to the environment. Dumping oily sludge into specifically constructed pits – the traditional method – is fraught with many problems: limited availability of land for constructing such pits, which are needed in large numbers; possibility of seepage; high cost in constructing seepagefree pits; and so on. All these call for alternative solutions for eradication of oily sludge.

To reduce/eliminate toxic pollutants in oily sludge, bioremediation use of biological organisms such as bacteria, fungi and plants has been done since the 1970s. These biological organisms either eat up the contaminants (mostly organic compounds) or assimilate them (heavy metals) and clean up the surrounding area.

Extensive research at TERI has resulted in the development of an easy and cost-effective bioremediation process. TERI has developed Oilzapper, a consortium of crude oil and oily sludge degrading bacteria (Patented) deriving from various bacterial cultures existing in the natural environment.

Oilzapper has the following qualities:

  • Cost-effective, easy to use, and environmentally sound
  • Naturally occurring and non-pathogenic
  • Suitable for both marine and terrestrial environments
  • Cleans up and restores the site to its original condition, leaving behind no harmful residue
  • Survives and remains effective under high temperature (up to 70°C)
  • Cleans up the oil-contaminated site in four months

The continuing success story of Oilzapper was triggered off with the field trial in a small site at the Indian Oil Refinery in Mathura, UP. The highly encouraging results prompted another trial at a much larger site (two-and-a half acres) of the same refinery, resulting in complete reclamation of the land.

During the past 10 years, more than 1,50,000 tonnes of oil soaked soil and oily sludge has been treated, and more than 10,000 hectares of surface area (both land and water) has been cleaned.

Oilzapper is multiplied under laboratory conditions, mixed with carrier materials, and packed into reusable polybags for convenient transportation.

The growing clients of Oilzapper for bioremediation of oil spill sites

Today, the list of clients for Oilzapper includes all the oil-producing and exploration companies operating in India while demands from abroad have started coming in.

The Oilzapper has not just snapped up wasted oil but also several eminent scientific awards in India and outside, including the All India Biotech Association Award 2001 given by the All India Biotech Association, New Delhi; the biotech Product and Process Development for commercialisation Award 2002 by the DBT; the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial National Gold Medal Award 2002 for excellence in Environmental Biotechnology Research by the International Greenland Society, Hyderabad; the best oral presentation award in the 5th International Petrotech 2003 (a petroleum conference and exhibition organized by the ONGC); the National Petroleum Management Programme Award 2002/03 for creativity and Innovation in the R&D category by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India; and more recently, the National Bioscience Award for the career Development, 2004/05, by the DBT among others. A cheap and quick solution to one of the most menacing environmental issues sure deserves these accolades.

After successful application of Oilzapper for clean up of oil spills, a joint venture known as ONGC-TERI Biotech Limited is created for large scale application of Oilzapper for bioremediation process in India and Middle East countries. Now OTBL is responsible for providing bioremediation service on a large scale on turnkey basis to the user industry.

Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India sponsors partially for development of Oilzapper for bioremediation process.

Banwari Lal
Director – Environmental & Industrial Biotechnology,
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)


Green Buildings = Greater Productivity

A new study has found that employees moving from buildings with poor indoor environment quality to more healthy green buildings may show less absenteeism and higher productivity.

Researchers from Michigan State University did two case studies evaluating the physical and mental health status of people who moved from traditional to green office buildings – one scenario involved 56 people and the other 207. Employees were asked through surveys about absenteeism from work in both types of buildings for asthma, allergies, depression and stress-related conditions. They were also asked about productivity in the two settings. Both green buildings received high ratings from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Following the move into the green buildings employees absent from work due to asthma and allergies dropped to 0.49 in green buildings per month as against 1.12 in conventional buildings. The average number of work hours affected by illness per month also declined after the move. Productivity improved.

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