Team:NU Kazakhstan

From a Dangerous Waste to Functional Nanomaterials: Bioremediation of Sour Crude Oil Waste using Cyanobacteria


Accumulation of a hydrogen sulfide as a consequence of sulfur-containing “sour” oil refinement can be dangerous. H2S damages the drilling equipment and causes corrosion of transporting pipelines. We use Cyanobacteria as a chassis since the organism is autotrophic. We designed a Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942 that expresses Sulfide Quinone Reductase (SQR) that catalyzes sulfide-dependent plastoquinone reduction in anaerobic conditions, while photosystem II stays inhibited due to sulfide being present. SQR converts Sulfide to elemental Sulfur which is stored in the bacteria and accumulates in the Biomass. The electron flow in this modified Photosynthetic Electron Transport Chain goes to a transgenic Hydrogenase making use of the existing anoxygenic conditions due to sulfide presence. The Biomass is finally converted to functional materials used for Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells in accordance with a newly developed method in our laboratory.

Project Description

Organism being used: Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942

Crude Oil and Hydrogen Sulfide

Natural crude oil is one of the primary fuel materials which has numerous uses and benefits in people’s life. As there are distinct types of crude oil produced around the world, there are differences in the quality of natural oil resources. One primary characteristic is the percentage of sulfur content in the crude oil, determining oil to be sweet or sour. Sour oil is referred to oil that contains substantial amounts of acidic gases such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. Therefore, oil is preferred to be sweet with sulfur content less than 0.5%. Sulfidic contaminations in oil are problematic for a variety of reasons. Besides the fact that hydrogen sulfide is a life-threatening, toxic and flammable gas, it also damages the drilling equipment, causes corrosion of transporting pipelines and requires costly refinement methods. The issue is applicable not only to Kazakhstan, which possesses enormous oil reserves and takes 12th place in global oil production, but also to other world’s major oil producers like Canada, Russia, Mexico, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, a release of this hazardous substance into an environment, particularly into the air, can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal irritations, poisoning, nausea, disorientation, headaches and in extreme situations can affect breathing center in the brain, causing neurological failures or death.

Treatment of crude oil

The extraction and treatment of crude oil and other fossil fuels can result in many toxic materials. One of these is Hydrogen Sulfide, generally resulting from the treatment of Sour Oil. Sour Oil is crude oil that contains a percentage of Sulfur higher than 0.5%. Hydrogen Sulfide is a dangerous gas and requires further treatment. Traditionally, Hydrogen Sulfide is eventually converted to elemental Sulfur using Chemical methods. In our project, we are developing genetically-engineered Cyanobacteria capable of coupling Sulfide oxidation, which results in elemental Sulfur and production of Hydrogen gas. The elemental Sulfur is stored inside the Cyanobacterial Biomass is then converted to Functional Materials using a Hydrothermal Process. These Functional Materials are used in applications of Solar Cells and Hydrogen Fuel Cells. We are developing a zero-waste environmentally-friendly process using Photosynthetic organisms to eliminate Hydrogen Sulfide from Fossil Fuel industrial effluent and converting the resulting Biomass into Functional Materials. The only byproduct we have is Hydrogen gas that can be used for Green Energy Applications!

Safety system

The safety system, that ensures control over transformed cyanobacteria, is chromophore-assisted light inactivation SuperNova protein. The photosensitizer protein SuperNova generates Reactive Oxygen Species under regular UV light. Phototoxic sensitivity range of the protein is 500-600 nm, which will allow it to eliminate transformed species in order to protect the environment from genetically modified organisms. The protein is a monomeric form of dimeric photosensitizer protein KillerRed. Its monomeric structure ensures better localization in fusion with the target protein, which makes it more convenient to use.

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