After the Frack: Oil-Eating Bacteria (BB Faculty)

IPrime Biocatalysis and Biotechnology program faculty, Mike Sadowsky and Lawrence Wackett, and other researchers build a silica sponge containing oil-eating bacteria, a potential remedy for water contaminated by oil and gas mining.

Called hydrofracturing, or fracking, the technique uses lots of water, which goes in clean and comes out contaminated with organic substances that render it unfit for reuse.

Purifying that water would reduce the pressure on waste disposal sites called injection wells, as well as on sites of wastewater spills. Working toward that goal are University of Minnesota microbiologists and IPrime Biocatalysis and Biotechnology program faculty Larry Wackett and Michael Sadowsky, who have already pioneered the use of pollutant-eating bacteria against soil contamination.

Along with mechanical engineering professor Alptekin Aksan, Wackett and Sadowsky are developing a silica sponge stuffed with oil-eating bacteria. The researchers and College of Biological Sciences Dean Robert Elde--whose role is to help commercialize the work--are funded by a National Science Foundation grant.

Bacteria may someday clean leftover frack water