Dispersants are globally and routinely used as an emergency response to oil spills at sea, with the goal to enhance the dissolution of oil into water and stimulate oil biodegradation processes. Effective emulsification of oil and keeping it stable in seawater is an important requirement for the bioremediation of oil – a process largely dictated and driven by the activities microorganism, in particular oil-degrading bacteria. The impacts of dispersants on bioremediation, however, remain largely unexplored. Furthermore, dispersants approved for use in the UK are all produced through organo-chemical synthesis. The use of dispersant in the UK is carefully considered and the decision is made by considering multiple factors including local environmental sensitivities. The search for natural alternative dispersants with proven environmental compatibility has gained interest in recent years. The focus of this project will be to provide the Oil & Gas industry, and oil-spill response agencies, with natural (bio-based) dispersants that are more eco-friendly and cheap to produce in large quantities to meet their demands. To meet this challenge, the project objectives are to: 1) Identify a handful of microbial-produced bio-dispersants that exhibit exceptional qualities for dispersing crude oil and stimulating oil-biodegradation processes in lab-based tests; 2) Evaluate their effectiveness in field-based trials; 3) Optimise bio-dispersant production by fermentation. Microbially-derived dispersants (aka bio-surfactants or bio-emulsifiers) offer a viable solution to the oil-gas industry as they can be produced from renewable feedstock or even waste streams and by natural fermentation processes. They are also readily biodegradable and display low eco-toxicity. The project is in close partnership with Oil & Gas UK who will provide expertise through their Oil & Gas Response Forum. The project avails of research cruises to the Faroe-Shetland Channel (FSC) where the student, in collaboration with Marine Scotland Science (MSS), will be provisioned a free berth on RV Scotia. The supervisory team comprises members with extensive experience in ocean sampling, the microbial response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and on the production, characterisation and application of microbial bio-dispersants and their use in oil-spill contingency.
This PhD is fully funded (stipend and fees covered) for 4 years.
To be eligible to apply, you must be a UK or EU national.
To apply, please send the following to Dr. Tony Gutierrez ([email protected]
): a cover letter, an updated copy of your CV, and the names and contact details of two or three referees who can provide a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
The project is funded for 4 years through the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (NERC-CDT) programme. Partial funding is provided by Oil & Gas UK for molecular MiSeq sequencing that will allow an in-depth understanding of the microbial community response in degrading oil in the planned in-situ field experiments with bio-dispersant.