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Researchers Isolate Fungus for Biodesulfurization of Heavy Crude

1 October 2008

Researchers at Sharif University of Technology in Iran have isolated a fungus for use in a process that can remove sulfur from heavy, high-sulfur crude oil more effectively than existing refinery desulfurization processes. The fungus, Stachybotrys, removed 65-76% of the sulfur present in heavy crude oil from two different oil fields in a process that occurs at 30°C (86°F).

The finding could help reduce air pollution and acid rain caused by the release of sulfur components in gasoline and may help oil companies meet tougher emission standards for fuel, the scientists say. Their study is scheduled for the 1 October issue of the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

The high concentrations of heteroatoms (such as N, S, O, Ni, V, and Fe) in hevay cruide oil make their removal more difficult than from lighter crude oils. Most traditional refining practices are inadequate to the task, according to the researchers.

Although hydrodesulfurization (HDS), a high-pressure, high-temperature catalytic process that converts organic sulfur to hydrogen sulfide gas, can remove various types of sulfur compounds, some types of heterocyclic sulfur compounds existing in petroleum cannot be removed. The researchers are exploring biodesulfurization as either an alternative or a complementary process to the conventional oil refining technologies.

The rate and efficiency of desulfurization is dependent on the sulfur content of the original crude oil as well as on other factors, such as pH, watear-oil ratio, and the number of spores in the innoculum. Stachybotrys also removes nitrogen, mkaing it more suitable for industrial applications.

The study, which is part of a heavy crude oil biodesulfurization project initiated by Petroleum Engineering Development Company (PEDEC), a subsidiary of National Iranian Oil Company, also examined the capabilities of other organisms.


  • Sarah Torkamani, Jalal Shayegan, Soheila Yaghmaei, and Iran Alemzadeh (2008) Study of the First Isolated Fungus Capable of Heavy Crude Oil Biodesulfurization. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 47 (19), 7476–7482, doi: 10.1021/ie800494p

October 1, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)


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This is one of the first articles that even hints that crude oil is dirty. Just as coal is called dirty, lets start a policy to call crude oil dirty as well. Dirty Coal Dirty oil. It is very nice to have organsms that will work cheaply.

Considering the large amounts of materials that have to be made into wind and solar collectors per kilowatt hour produced, Nuclear rectors can be built with less CO2 cost per kilowatt hour produced in a life time including the CO2 cost for mining uranium and forming it into fuel rods. ..HG..

I see a lot of activity in this area. Amyris has started work on genetically engineering bacteria to actually refine oil in situ. Others are working on microbes that will break crude down into NG in old, mostly depleted oil fields. The NG can then be converted to jet fuel via a GTL process on the surface.

Expensive, yes, but we're scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point.

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