Jianbing Li and his team of UNBC student researchers have created a group of microrganisms with an insatiable appetite for oil.
That's good news for the oil and gas industry and its never-ending search for better ways to deal with the environmental effects of capturing petroleum products.
The work of Li, an environmental engineering professor specializing in groundwater hydrology at UNBC, and his experimental project with Husky Energy was highlighted Wednesday night at the Northern B.C. Business and Technology awards banquet at the Civic Centre when he was selected winner of the collaborative research award.
"I feel very excited to be recognized and I just want to thank Husky for their continued support," said Li.
His project focuses on developing an emulsifying compound that works on oil sludge to allow extraction of oil from contaminated soil.
"It's beneficial to the oil and gas industry because the technology improves the efficiency of microbial degradation of the contaminants and it also improves the efficiency of oil recovery," said Li, who has been working on the project since 2007. He said his compound could have multiple applications and could be used in cities to clean up the type of oil spills left by gas/service stations.
"I think the bioemulsifier could be used for the oil recovery," he said. "We are applying for patents and it should have some potential in the oil and gas industry. We haven't done experiments on tar sands yet but it should have some potential there as well.
"Our intention is to speed up the degradation of the contaminated soil. It is hazardous waste, and so the remediation is very difficult. For our research, we treat this waste as a resource. We are recovering a valuable resource and then we will reduce the waste content."
Li hooked up with the Husky refinery on Pulp Mill Road because of its proximity to the city and because it supplies him with sludge samples for his research, collected from the bottom of the tanks located at the plant.
"I have a connection with the Husky engineers and environmental specialists and Husky has done some training of our undergrad students and has sponsored some design projects for environmental engineering students," said Li.
While there was no cash value for winning the Prince George award. that could still be in the cards for Li in May. In September, he was nominated for a 200,000 Euro award to be announced in Italy sponsored Eni Gas Co. If he wins, he will travel to Italy in June to accept it.
"I'm glad my environmental remediation research is also recognized internationally," he said.