U of S, NAIT alter cattle processing biowaste to clean up petroleum-polluted soil

Soil scientist Derek Peak. Image: University of Saskatchewan

University of Saskatchewan (U of S) soil researchers have been awarded $750,000 in federal funding to develop a next-generation method of removing spilled petroleum pollutants in the soil at former gas stations by using converted biowaste from cattle processing plants.

U of S soil scientists Derek Peak and Steven Siciliano and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) professor Paolo Mussone will work with industry partners Federated Cooperatives Limited (FCL) and United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative Limited (UFA) to develop and test new soil additives that can trap and remove petroleum hydrocarbons for easier digestion by soil-based organisms.

“We’re developing new phosphorous-rich materials to help bacteria and fungi in the ground consume hydrocarbon pollutants,” Peak, the lead investigator, said in a statement. “These materials will enable us to treat contaminated soil right at the site rather than excavating the soil to process it. This could cut remediation costs in half.”

With more than 30,000 contaminated gas station sites in Canada, halving remediation costs represents a total potential savings of approximately $7.5 billion.

In a system akin to a giant pressure cooker, using relatively little energy and in only a few hours, waste materials from a cattle processing plant are converted into a water-based, nutrient-rich material that can be injected into the soil to aid bacteria and fungi in breaking down petrochemicals.

“Remedial approaches have real and measurable sustainability benefits over traditional excavation-based approaches,” said Kris Bradshaw, FCL’s Impacted Sites manager, whose team currently manages more than 1,000 impacted sites. “This research will ultimately help us and others manage the vast array of impacted sites in Canada and around the world.”

The project is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) through its College-University Idea to Innovation (CU-I2I) grant. This funding category supports development of promising technology from academia and promotes its transfer to industry. FCL and UFA are jointly providing an additional $75,000 cash and $337,500 in-kind contribution.

The funding will support three years of research to make new compounds at NAIT, evaluate them at U of S laboratories and the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, and then pilot-test the soil additives at two sites in Stony Plain, Alberta.

The project will also create a training partnership program between the U of S and NAIT: two U of S PhD students will serve as mentors to NAIT students and U of S students will have the opportunity to work with highly specialized tools at NAIT.