Apr. 6, 1998 DALLAS - A new approach that uses both bacteria and chemical catalysts to remove impurities from crude oil could make more of the world's oil supply available for use, report scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Speaking today at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society here, chemist Devinder Mahajan described a system known a BIO CAT/CHEM CAT, which he and his BNL colleagues Mow Lin and Eugene Premuzic are developing.
If successful, their two-part approach is expected to purify oil better than the one-step bacteria- or chemical-based treatments that are currently commercially available. The scientists have already begun selecting and breeding heat-loving, or thermophilic, bacteria that thrive at temperatures near the boiling point of water, the temperatures used in processing crude oil.
They have shown that the bacteria can remove almost half the sulfur and nitrogen, and up to 92 percent of the heavy metals, in crude oil.
Now, they hope to develop water-soluble catalysts that will also be effective in the same temperature range, rather than the hotter temperatures usually used.
The catalysts are based on a concept developed at BNL for another purpose. Used in a slurry, or soluble, form, their small particles make increased surface area available to catalyze the chemical reactions that remove impurities. The goal is nearly complete removal of the impurities. The lower temperature needed for the catalysis will allow both the bacteria and the catalysts to be used on the same oil, and will preserve as much of the crude's fuel potential as possible.
Getting rid of such impurities raises the grade of the oil, making it more valuable as fuel. And deriving useful, light oil from crude helps stretch the world's oil reserves. The process would also decrease air pollution, as such impurities are released as gases when oil is burned and contribute to both smog formation and greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. Environmental regulations and global emissions treaties are driving a push toward cleaner-burning fuel.
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