Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Sweet Science of Bioremediation

Bioremediation of contaminated land is something of a holy grail for scientists and environmentalists since it utilizes natural processes to cleanse soils and groundwater of contamination. It can be done either in place, or with a mechanical removal of soil for treatment off-site.

Some cleanups in New Jersey are using molasses to enhance the bioremediation. That can speed up the cleanup and restore lands much more quickly than other cleanup methods.
In a relatively new process called enhanced anaerobic bioremediation, the diluted molasses provides a food source for microbes that occur naturally in the soil. The microbes multiply, then use the solvents the way humans use oxygen, breaking them down into non-toxic byproducts, such as carbon dioxide.

International Molasses now ships its syrup to cleanup sites in New Jersey and several other states.

"A few years ago we started seeing a lot of growth in this area," said Eric Lushing, vice president of Malt Products Corp. and its subsidiary, International Molasses Corp., which supplies molasses to the Kearfott site.

"The molasses we produce is food grade, which is not true of a lot of refineries, which make it below food grade," Lushing said. That makes their product more appealing to cleanup experts, since food grade molasses does not contain other chemicals that might exacerbate a contaminated site's issues, he said.

The companies' molasses and malt products are more typically sold to food manufacturers that make cookies, snack foods, breakfast cereals, candy and peanut butter.

International Molasses Corp. began in 1957 as a regional supplier of malts and has grown internationally. It has manufacturing plants in Maywood as well as in Canada, Great Britain and the Netherlands. The company also has a product called Eco-Molasses, a byproduct of sugar refining that is sold to golf courses and other facilities for lawn maintenance. Eco-Molasses is touted as a product that improves leaf color and plant health, decreases thatch, and increases microbial activity in the soil.

'99 percent' clean

"We're hoping that within two years this process will bring the contaminants down to an acceptable standard," said Mo Mohiuddin, project manager with Arcadis, the contractor hired to clean up the Kearfott site. "We won't get every molecule of contamination but we should be able to hit 99 percent of the mess."

Anaerobic bioremediation is a growing strategy for contamination cleanup experts. It has been used at hundreds of sites nationwide, including Air Force bases from Oklahoma to California.
If it can be made significantly cheaper, that would further spur cleanups.

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