Scientists around the world are concentrated on the two main problems of the industry. The first is environmental degradation — both above and below ground. The second is new, more efficient extraction technologies. The Biocontrol Lab now works on replacing synthetic surfactants with their biological analogues.
Lab Head, Associate Professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences Polina Galitskaya explains, "Microbes have endless potential, and we have just learnt to use some of them. One of the areas for that is oil recovery. Some microorganisms produce surfactants — essentially the same as synthetic ones but less toxic, easily biodegradable and therefore not dangerous to the environment".
Surfactants serve to reduce interfacial tension. Due to that oil becomes less viscous and fluid, so less energy is required to extract it. However, surfactants also have side effects, such as the degradation of oil quality. Microbes can synthesize several types of surfactants depending on external conditions. They are more universal and flexible.
Dr. Galitskaya adds, "We cooperate with Mirrico on this project. The company specializes in chemical products for upstream, and this cooperation has a positive influence on our research. There are some issues that we have not even approached. Mirrico's representatives posed a question: what are maximum pressure and temperature parameters for these surfactants? We are looking into that now together with the Institute of Geology and Petroleum Technologies – they have the necessary equipment".
The group often works together with Martin Romantschuk, Professor of Environmental Biotechnology at the University of Helsinki. He tests the newly discovered surfactants in the Arctic.
The Biocontrol Lab has achieved some impressive results and plans to work further on finding ways to protect the environment while making progress in industrial technologies.