Research Topic

Petroleum Microbial Biotechnology: Challenges and Prospects

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Hydrocarbon biotechnology offers environmentally friendly approaches that can be implemented effectively throughout the value chain of the oil industry to enhance crude oil recovery, convert hydrocarbons into methane, treat wastes and also deal with oil spill management. Aspects of oil and gas exploration, ...

Hydrocarbon biotechnology offers environmentally friendly approaches that can be implemented effectively throughout the value chain of the oil industry to enhance crude oil recovery, convert hydrocarbons into methane, treat wastes and also deal with oil spill management. Aspects of oil and gas exploration, recovery, transportation, refining, and upgrading can benefit from a deeper understanding of microbially-driven bioprocesses. Hydrocarbon biotechnology exploits the catabolic capabilities of microorganisms that enable the utilization or transformation of petroleum and coal hydrocarbons to utilizable intermediates and products. For example, microbial products such as organic acids, gases, biosurfactants, and biopolymers play a significant role in enhanced oil recovery, while conversion of residual oil and coal to methane by microbial consortia is being exploited to extract reduced hydrocarbons from the subsurface in more environmentally benign ways. Another route for large scale microbial methane production is via CO2 injection into coal and oil containing formations.
In addition to the relatively well-studied biological treatment of oil spills and fermenter-based hydrocarbon waste treatment systems, processes for diesel biodesulfurization and biodenitrogenation, microbial removal of metals, bio-upgrading of heavy crudes and refinery bottom residues, as well as enhanced oil recovery, await extensive research and development prior to the deployment of commercially viable technologies. A challenging issue in hydrocarbons biotechnology is biocatalyst selection. Ideal microbial biocatalysts must be non-pathogenic, active and stable under the harsh conditions (e.g. variable temperatures, salinity, substrate complexity and toxicity, pH), selective, have broad substrate spectra, be recyclable, have rapid growth with high cell density in inexpensive media, have constitutive or rapidly inducible biocatalytic capabilities, and be genetically tractable. Recent advances in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering pave the way for the development of tailor-designed biocatalysts that can be efficiently applied in the oil industry. This research topic welcomes contributions in the following areas:

- Novel biochemical pathways, enzymes, and catalytic mechanisms for hydrocarbon biotransformation/biodegradation under both oxic and anoxic conditions
- Bioconversion of crude oil to methane
- Biotransformation of coal to methane
- Biomethanation via CO2 injection into coal and oil formations
- Development of novel biocatalysts for the oil industry
- Biodesulfurization and biodenitrogenation of diesel
- Bio-upgrading of heavy crudes and refinery bottom residues
- Role of biosurfactants in the bioupgrading process
- Proteomic, metaproteomic, and metabolomic applications in hydrocarbons biotechnology
- Proteomics, metaproteomics, and metabolomics in oil/gas/coal reservoirs, oil fields, and oil-polluted ecosystems
- Microbial enhanced oil recovery
- Asphaltene and naphthene biodegradation
- Petrochemical formulations with biosurfactants
- Applications of synthetic biology and metabolic engineering in petroleum biotechnology
- Corrosion control in the oilfields and operating systems


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