Oil & Natural Gas Projects
Exploration and Production Technologies
Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery Surfactant from Waste Products and Biotechnologies
for Oil Field Application
The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Biotechnology for Oilfield Operations program
(DPR5AC312) was funded under the National Laboratory Partnership Program as
a Field Work Proposal at the discretion of the Office of Fossil Energy.
The program supported the development, engineering, and application of biotechnology
for exploration and production of petroleum as well as for the mitigation of
field conditions detrimental to the environment. The purpose of the program
was to research more cost-effective and environmentally acceptable methods of
microbial enhanced oil recovery (MEOR). This research involved elucidation and
quantification of microbial mechanisms responsible for oil displacement. The
project also sought to develop MEOR systems and to apply them in field demonstrations
whose cost was shared with industry.
Idaho National Laboratory
Idaho Falls, ID
New Mexico Tech Petroleum Recovery Research Center
University of Wyoming
Chevron Petroleum Technology Company
La Habra, CA.
INL successfully produced surfactin from potato-process effluents for possible
use as an economical alternative to chemical surfactants for improving oil recovery.
INL research demonstrated the feasibility of producing surfactin in cultures
of Bacillus subtilis grown on soluble starch as well as the utility of
applying biosurfactants to EOR. The project also demonstrated the ability to
produce surfactin from agricultural-process effluents, described the impact
of effluent pretreatment, and evaluated the application of novel reactor configurations
for production and separation from actual process effluents.
The project demonstrated progress toward developing an alternate technology
for modifying permeability, thus extending the life of a reservoir and preventing
premature abandonment. The program supported the development, engineering, and
application of biological systems for EOR, environmental remediation, improved
processing for utilization of natural resources, creation of new markets for
existing commodities, and advanced industrial processes with lessened environmental
impact and increased energy efficiency. Further, the program was consistent
with the US DOE mission to "promote activities and policies through its
oil technology and natural gas supply programs to enhance the efficiency and
environmental quality of domestic oil and natural gas exploration, recovery,
processing, transport, and storage." Additionally, this project directly
supported the focus areas of Reservoir Life Extension; Advanced Drilling, Completion,
and Stimulation Systems; Effective Environmental Protection; and Cross-Cutting
MEOR processes historically have been recognized as offering the potential for
being more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than existing chemical
EOR processes. The original objectives of this research program were to determine
the mechanisms of oil recovery by microbial systems in terms of variables such
as interfacial tension, fluid viscosities, wettability alteration, and adsorption
that are well-known in EOR technology to control recovery effectiveness. There
is a widespread interest in MEOR processes in the oil industry as well as continuing
skepticism because of the lack of information, identification, and quantification
of the controlling mechanisms. Independent operators have a significant interest
in MEOR because of its promise of less capital-intensive but more cost-effective
processes and as a potential process for remediation of reservoir souring.
Biosurfactants-surface-active molecules produced by microorganisms-have numerous
desirable properties for application as EOR agents, including a fairly broad
range of pH and salt tolerance, low toxicity profiles, and potentially low production
cost. The use of biosurfactants, as with many other biological products, is
limited due to high costs associated with the media required to grow the microorganisms
and to separate the product from the spent culture.
- In early stages documented the applicability of microbial surfactants that
either were generated in situ or applied after ex situ generation and that microbial
surfactants (specifically those produced by Bacillus licheniformis) were
not inactivated by reservoir conditions or oil composition.
- Developed instrumentation to evaluate interfacial tensions by video image
analysis of inverted pendant drops to measure the changes caused by microbial
- Undertook research to evaluate wettability with the New Mexico Petroleum
Recovery Research Center (NMPRRC) and the University of Wyoming, which led to
the documentation of brine composition as a key element in oil recovery.
- Investigated several flow conformance entities, including large molecular
weight (dextran), small molecular weight (cyclodextrin), and reservoir-reactive
- Evaluated the production and gelling characteristics of dextran produced
naturally from Leucononstoc mesenteroides using fishmeal and fish solubles
as a nutrient source. Determined that phosphate promotes gelling of dextran.
- Investigated the production and application of reactive microbial polymers
from Agrobacterium sp. Determined that curdlan, a soluble biopolymer,
interacted with Berea sandstone to cause a decrease in pH leading to gel formation
and a reduction in permeability.
- Characterized surfactants produced by Bacillus subtilis for brine
compatibility and application in reservoir environments.
- Compared the EOR potential of surfactants produced by Bacillus licheniformis
and Bacillus subtilis.
Early work demonstrated that surfactin could be produced from an inexpensive
low-solids potato process effluent with minimal amendments or pretreatments.
Research also established that surfactin could be produced by Bacillus
subtilis ATCC 21332 cultures and recovered by foam fractionation in an
airlift reactor. Results using both purified potato starch and unamended low-solids
potato process effluent as substrates for surfactin production indicated that
the process was oxygen-limited and that recalcitrant indigenous bacteria in
the process effluent hampered continuous surfactin production. This limitation
was addressed by use of a chemostat reactor operated in batch mode for producing
surfactin with concomitant use of an antifoam to prevent surfactant loss.
The antifoam did not interfere with the surfactin's recovery (by acid precipitation)
or its efficacy. Surfactants enhance the recovery of oil through reduction
of the interfacial tension between the oil and water interfaces or by effecting
changes in the wettability index of the system. Experimental variables included
sodium chloride (0 to 10%, w/v), pH (3 to 10), and temperature (21 to 70°C).
Each of these parameters-and selected combinations-resulted in discreet changes
of surfactin activity.
Polymer injection has been used in reservoirs to alleviate contrasting permeability
zones. Current technology relies on cross-linking agents to initiate gelation.
Use of biological polymers is valuable because they can block high-permeability
zones, are environmentally friendly, and have potential to form reversible
gels without the use of cross-linkers. The production of a reactive alkaline
soluble biopolymer from Agrobacterium sp. ATCC 31749, which gels upon
decreasing the pH of the polymer solution, was evaluated. The focus of the
study was to determine the impact of an alkaline-soluble biopolymer on permeability.
Permeability modification was investigated by injecting the alkaline biopolymer
into Berea sandstone cores and defining the contribution of pH, salt, temperature,
and crude oil on gelation. The biopolymer was soluble at a pH above 11 and
gelled at pH below 10.8. The interaction of the soluble biopolymer with the
geochemistry of a Berea sandstone core decreased the pH sufficiently to form
a gel, which subsequently decreased permeability. Effluent pH of control cores
injected with 0.01M KOH (pH 12.0) and 0.1M KOH (pH 13.0) decreased to 10.6
and 12.7, respectively. Despite the reduction of pH in the control cores,
permeability increased. In contrast, when biopolymer was injected, the buffering
capacity of the core caused the biopolymer to form a gel and subsequently
reduce permeability. Permeability of the sandstone core injected with biopolymer
decreased greater than 95% at 25°C in the presence of 2% NaCl, and crude
oil; however, permeability increased when the temperature of the core increased
to 60°C. Residual resistance factors of Berea cores treated with biopolymer
increased 800-fold compared to cores without biopolymer. Therefore, internal
sandstone core buffering of an alkaline biopolymer yielding a stable gel could
potentially lead to an alternate technology for modifying permeability.
Current Status (October 2005)
Program execution enabled and initiated technical growth in other important
areas in research projects at NMPRRC, University of Wyoming, University of
Tulsa, Montana State University, University of Kansas, ConocoPhillips, ChevronTexaco
Corp., and Halliburton.
"Surfactin Production from a Potato-Process Effluent by Bacillus subtilis
in a Chemostat," Noah, K.S., Bruhn, D.F., and Bala, G.A., 2004. Pending
publication: Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology.
"Characterization of Surfactin from Bacillus subtilis for Application
as an Agent for Enhanced Oil Recovery," Schaller, K.D., Fox, S.L., Bruhn,
D F., Noah, K.S., and Bala, G.A. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology, pp.
827-836, Vol. 113-116, 2004.
"Permeability Modification Using a Reactive Alkaline-Soluble Biopolymer,"
Fox, S. L., Xie, X., and Bala, G.A., Paper 592b, 2004 AIChE Annual Meeting.
"Microbiological Production of Surfactant From Agricultural Process
Residuals for IOR Application," Bala, G.A., Fox, S.L., and Thompson,
D.N., SPE Paper 75239, Proceedings of the 13th Annual DOE/SPE Symposium on
Improved Oil Recovery, 2002.
"Development of Continuous Surfactin Production from Potato-Process
Effluent by Bacillus subtilis in an Airlift Reactor," Noah, K.S.,
Fox, S.L., Bruhn, D.F., Thompson, D.N., and Bala, G.A. Applied Biochemistry
and Biotechnology, pp. 803-813, Vols. 98-100, 2002.
Project Start: March 7, 1989
Project End: March 14, 2004
Anticipated DOE Contribution: $4,372,000 (including subcontracts to
Performer Contribution: $1,359,000 (24% of total)
NETL - Sue Mehlhoff (email@example.com or 918-699-2044)
INL - Gregory A. Bala (firstname.lastname@example.org 208-526-8178)
INL researchers sample a wellhead to conduct fluid analysis and microbial
ecology and physiological characterization tests.
Researchers at the INL inoculate specialized media in an anaerobic chamber.