November 1, 2012
Congratulations to the University of Calgary
iGEM team for placing as a finalist in the Americas West Regional Jamboree, Cornell University
for placing as a finalist in the Americas East Regional Jamboree and CINVESTAV-IPN-UNAM MX
(Mexico) for placing as a finalist in the Latin America Regional Jamboree.
Congratulations to Queens University
and INSA de Lyon
(France) who have also qualified to advance to the World Championship. Good luck to all five teams competing at the iGEM World Championship Jamboree at MIT!
The Canadian oil sands, located in northern Alberta, contain the second-largest recoverable oil reserves in the world (after Saudi Arabia's). The oil sands are an important, secure and reliable energy source for North America and abroad, but their sustainable development presents challenges.
Breakthrough energy-saving processes are sought to reduce the environmental impacts and improve the mobilization of oil.
Biological processes are particularly attractive, since bitumen itself is the result of past biological activity, where microbes utilized the majority of oxygen in the oil leaving a longer chain hydrocarbon that is more difficult to breakdown. Bitumen
is a heavy viscous form of crude oil, with a consistency similar to peanut butter at room temperature. The vast majority of the oil sands deposits are too deep to surface mine so the bitumen is recovered in situ
by injecting steam and solvents to reduce its viscosity so it flows into producing wells. A smaller
percentage of the oil sands lie within 75 meters from the surface and the bitumen is extracted using hot water and chemicals. Ninety percent of the water from mining operations is reused and the remaining 10 percent (mixed with fine clays, small amounts of hydrocarbon and other compounds) goes into tailings ponds to settle.
A common way of recovering this bitumen is to burn natural gas to produce steam, which is injected into the reservoir to heat and loosen the bitumen so it flows into producing wells. A smaller percentage of the oil sands resource lies within 75 metres of the surface. These deposits are mined and the bitumen is extracted using hot water and chemicals. Typically,
90 per cent of the water from mining operations is reused and the remaining 10 per cent (contaminated with fine clays, small amounts of hydrocarbons and other compounds) go to tailings ponds
After bitumen is recovered, it is either pre-processed (called "upgrading
") which burns more natural gas, or a diluting agent is added so the product can be shipped via pipeline for further refining.
Opportunities for application of synthetic biology in the oil sands
- Microbes and algae that feed on carbon dioxide (CO2) and turn it into a valuable product such as food or fuel
- Microorganisms that generate hydrogen
- Microorganisms that detect and destroy waste
- Microorganisms that produce polymers or other chemicals to coagulate fine tailings
- Bacteria that could upgrade the bitumen in situ producing lighter hydrocarbons
- Novel biosensors
- Microbes that process biomass into biofuels or electricity
- Biological solution of the breakdown of bitumen-saturated oil-based drilling mud
This year, OSLI funded eight iGEM teams from five countries. Students came from universities in Canada, France, Mexico and the United States.
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