Feb. 6, 2002 A new bioremediation process developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) is making the difficult job of removing chlorinated solvents from groundwater much easier.
Finding solutions to groundwater cleanup has long been a challenge for industry professionals. Groundwater plumes contaminated with chlorinated solvents are common and typically present unique obstacles related to the chemicals' high density and low solubility.
North Wind Environmental, Inc., a locally owned engineering and consulting firm, has obtained a license to use the INEEL's innovative process called Bioavailability Enhancement TechnologyTM (B.E.T.).
B.E.T. was tested at the INEEL's Test Area North (TAN) with very good results. Scientists were trying to find a cost-effective way to clean up the underground aquifer beneath TAN, which was contaminated with organic sludge and wastewater, resulting in a two-mile long trichloroethene (TCE) groundwater plume.
TCE, used extensively for degreasing and one of the most common groundwater contaminants at hazardous waste sites in the United States, had been injected into the aquifer over a period of 15 years.
While laboratory tests performed at the INEEL and elsewhere had shown the potential for success of TCE bioremediation, the results in the field far exceeded expectations. Not only did TCE concentrations in the source area drop below detection limits, but breakdown of the TCE also was increased.
"TCE contamination is one of the most prevalent environmental problems in the world," said Lyman Frost, INEEL Technology Transfer director. "This is an excellent example of teaming between industry and national laboratories. The technology was conceived and developed at the INEEL, and by transferring this technology to the industrial sector, it will be rapidly applied across a wider spectrum of needs."
The bioremediation process takes advantage of natural biological processes that break down TCE when bacteria already present at the site are given an appropriate food source. Scientists found that the INEEL process helps dissolve the TCE, which accelerates its degradation. The process is much cheaper than conventional methods and because the remediation is done underground, there is no secondary waste stream. The land site essentially remains undisturbed.
Success of the large-scale test of B.E.T. at the INEEL has also won the approval of the state of Idaho and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). B.E.T., combined with monitored natural attenuation - the contaminant degradation that takes place naturally in the TCE plume - is expected to save $23 million at TAN. Cost savings achieved at TAN were the direct result of integration of cleanup operations funded through the DOE-HQ Office of Project Completion (EM-40) with an Accelerated Site Technology Deployment project funded through the DOE-HQ Office of Science and Technology (EM-50).
Kent Sorenson, North Wind director for Applied Research and former INEEL scientist, is excited about the results.
"B.E.T. is part of a breakthrough in the understanding of bioremediation that has the potential to revolutionize the cleanup of chlorinated solvent source areas, which are one of the biggest environmental challenges facing industry, the government and cleanup professionals today," said Sorenson.
"We are very excited to have this opportunity to team with the INEEL," said Sylvia Medina, North Wind founder and president. "The scientific research being done at the laboratory can have a direct impact on local small business. The innovative tools and techniques developed are a great complement to our practical skills and experience."
North Wind's newly formed Remediation Technologies Division will manage commercialization of the technology. Sorenson, along with former INEEL employees Lance Peterson and Joe Rothermel, will run the division from North Wind's Idaho Falls office. The company employs about 50 people locally and has branch offices in six Western states.
"The INEEL is pleased to see North Wind Environmental agree to locate within the rapidly developing Eastern Idaho Technology Corridor (EITC)," said Frost. "Environmental technology is one of the focus points for EITC."
The INEEL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to supporting the U.S. Department of Energy's missions in environment, energy, science and national security. The INEEL is operated for the DOE by Bechtel BWXT Idaho, LLC.
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The above story is based on materials provided by Idaho National E & E Laboratory.
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