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article imageMicrobes used to increase hydrocarbon recovery

By Tim Sandle     Jan 28, 2016 in Science
Mexico - Microbial technology appears to provide the means of improving hydrocarbon recovery from oil wells, according to a new study. The research is based on using the microorganisms found in extracted oil.
The use of microorganisms is based on an unpublished study from the Mexican Oil Institute, led by Dr. Patricia Olguin. The process involved is termed “Technology of Hydrocarbons Recovery using Microbes” (IMP-RHVM). The basis of this is to take the microorganisms recovered from oil samples. These organisms produce useful metabolites, including carbon dioxide, solvents and acids, which help to increase the recovery of hydrocarbons.
Hydrocarbons are compounds that contain only carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms. They are found in crude oil and are extracted by a process called fractional distillation. Hydrocarbons fall into different groups, including alkanes, alkenes and cycloalkanes. Examples of alkanes include propane and butane.
The process used in Mexico to extract hydrocarbons is by a mix of natural oil flow and water injection. This is relatively inefficient, rendering only 30 percent of the available oil. To improve this, the microbes typically found in oil have been extracted and cultivated. These organisms require certain conditions of growth similar to those found in oil underground (that is particular pH, temperature, salinity, pressure and so on.) However, there are variations with the types of microorganisms in association with different types of oil from different regions.
The research indicates that by selecting the appropriate microbes for a particular oil type, these can be added to help the extraction process. The metabolites produced by the organisms can be used to increase the amount of hydrocarbons recovered in relation to different types of oil in different geographical locales.
Trials have been conducted using microorganisms on wells and models have been deployed to examine different environments. In one case, a formula of microbes was injected deep into the ground and improved yields were obtained. The next step is try out the laboratory theory and experimental models in the field.
In related news, scientists have been examining how certain bacteria can help clean-up oil spills. Here, bacteria clean-up oil spills through bioremediation. This is a process where bacterial decomposers are used to remove contaminants and restore the ‘natural’ balance to the ocean.
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