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Billions of Tiny Bugs Have Green Jobs Cleaning Up Polluted Sites

Microvi Biotech uses microbes in a low cost, low impact system that cleans up perchlorate and other contaminantsTalk about green jobs!  The California company Microvi Biotech has developed a low cost, low impact, energy efficient system that puts billions of microorganisms to work, cleaning up notorious soil and groundwater pollutants like perchlorate, a rocket fuel additive that is also used to make explosives, matches and  flares among many (many, many) other products.

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Perchlorate contamination is widespread and it is an especially thorny problem for the defense industry and U.S. military installations, which use about 90% of all domestically produced perchlorate.  To make matters worse, perchlorate is highly mobile once it gets into groundwater, which means that cleanup can be extremely difficult and expensive.  That’s where those bugs come in…

Microvi and Green Remediation

Microvi is part of the “Green Remediation” trend in cleaning up Superfund sites and other polluted sites.  The concept is to keep the soil and/or water in place, and install systems that rely on natural processes to get rid of contaminants.  Compared to the old method of digging out contaminated soil and dumping it elsewhere, green remediation can be far more energy efficient, far less costly and less time consuming, and involve a far lower carbon footprint.  Pollutant-chewing microbes like those developed by Microvi are one approach.  Others include phytoremediation (using plants to suck up and destroy contaminants), or injection with vitamins and other substances like lactate.

Green Remediation and Green Jobs

Green remediation can also involve using solar power and other forms of alternative energy to run equipment needed for site cleanup.  As for those green jobs, they’re not just for microbes.  Green remediation dovetails with a push by the U.S. EPA to reclaim brownfields for alternative energy and other sustainable ventures that create employment.

Microvi and Billions of Hungry Bugs

Microvi’s process works by encasing multitudes of microbes within a membrane, using strains that can digest a variety of pollutants like chlorinated phenols, oxygenated compounds, perchlorate, hydrocarbons, chlorinated solvents, nitrogenous compounds and pharmaceuticals.  The company claims that its process results in water that meets drinking standards with no byproduct, in contrast to the contaminated sludge produced by conventional wastewater treatment at contaminated sites.  The system is fast-acting, durable, compact, highly efficient, and capable of treating more than one contaminant at a time.  Designed with low costs in mind, it can be retrofitted on existing infrastructure without modification.

Perchlorate, the U.S. Military and Green Remediation

Last fall the EPA published a fact sheet on perchlorate (pdf), identifying it as an emerging contaminant and describing a number of green remediation techniques have been used for site cleanup.  According to an article from The Cleantech Group, Microvi has just finished a successful pilot-test of its microbe-based green remediation system for perchlorate at a defense industry site in California.  The company also tested its process at a naval facility in California, where the groundwater was contaminated with MTBE (methyl-t-butyl ether).  Just a few days ago the U.S. Army Environmental Command announced a series of three contracts to clean up munitions and related contaminants at military facilities in Hawaii, Illinois and California and it will be interesting to see how green remediation plays into these and future efforts.

Image: Oil slick by nicocrisafulli on flickr.com

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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