Lab Canada

Researchers examine role of microorganisms in oil sands development

Edmonton, AB – A research team that will examine Alberta’s potential to reduce the use of water and natural gas in oil sands extraction and improve the management of tailings ponds is receiving $2 million in support from Genome Alberta.

The researchers will examine Alberta’s energy reserves for microbes that exist naturally in oil sands and coal seams. These living organisms cause the natural breakdown of hydrocarbons and the project will look into how these processes could be used in energy production, such as speeding up the settling rate of tailings ponds so the water can be recycled sooner.

The head of the research team is Dr Gerrit Voordouw, a world leader in the use of metagenomics in the petroleum sector, which is central to unlocking scientific solutions “unseen in DNA”. The team, based at the University of Calgary, will also develop a database that describes and harnesses the genetic potential of the microorganisms, genes and biological processes.

Originally from the Netherlands, Dr. Gerritt Voordouw completed his PhD in biochemistry at the University of Calgary in 1975 and is now a professor of microbiology in the department of biological sciences at the university. His research interests are in the development of the molecular biology of anaerobic, sulfate-reducing bacteria and in the characterization of anaerobic, microbial communities found in subsurface environments, such as oil fields and aquifers.

Through the project – called Metagenomics for Greener Production and Extraction of Hydrocarbon Energy: Creating Opportunities for Enhanced Recovery with Reduced Environmental Impact -a database will be developed and used by other researchers and scientists to create greener energy and feedstock production. This will help lay a foundation for new bioproducts industries within the province.

Industry partners, Genome Canada and Alberta’s research community are also contributing to the $11.6-million project.