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Hydrocarbon Biodegradation and Oil Spill Bioremediation

Much of the early work on the microbial utilization of petroleum hydrocarbons, conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, was done with the goal of using hydrocarbons as substrates for producing microbial biomass (Shennan, 1984; Champagnat, 1964; Champagnat and Llewelyn, 1962; Cooney et al., 1980; Ballerini, 1978). Petroleum was viewed as an inexpensive carbon source and single cell protein (microbial biomass) was considered as a possible solution to the perceived impending world food shortage for the predicted global population explosion. Applied studies focused on optimizing microbial growth on low- to middle-molecular-weight hydrocarbons. These studies developed fermentor designs for large-scale single cell protein production with agitation and aeration systems that permitted high rates of microbial growth on soluble and highly emulsified hydrocarbon substrates. High-speed impellers (>800 rpm) were used to mix the hydrocarbon substrates and high rates of forced aeration with baffles within the fermentors were used to supply the molecular oxygen necessary for the microbial utilization of hydrocarbons (Hatch, 1975; Prokop and Sobotka, 1975). Optimized microbial growth in these fermentors consumes as much as 100,000 g hydrocarbon/m3 per day (Kanazawa, 1975).

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