Environmental contaminants like total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) persist for decades in soils and sediments, and have been linked to cancer, immune and nervous system disorders, reproductive and developmental abnormalities, learning disorders, birth defects, and other health concerns. Traditional remediation methods are expensive and can further damage the environment. The estimated cost of remediating contaminated sites was estimated at $6-$8 billion annually in the U.S. and $425-$500 billion globally, mostly for remediating soils. Current cleanup methods include soil dredging, soil capping, and excavation. Dredging and/or excavating to remove contaminants is expensive, time consuming, and labor intensive, and risks harmful secondary effects such as damage to the ecosystem and the release of carbon and additional contaminants into the air. Soil capping leaves contaminants in place, risking future re-contamination.
Battelle’s Create the Future invention harnesses the power of enzymes produced by naturally-occurring fungi to break down a broad spectrum of contaminants. We encapsulate the enzymes in a natural, biodegradeable polymer bead that releases enzymes over time once they are applied to a contaminated site. The rate of release can be adjusted through the formulation of the polymer beads. Beads with different rates of release can be mixed together, along with other natural ingredients that support and enhance the ecosystem’s inherent capacity to degrade pollutants. The mixture is inexpensive to produce and easy to apply by spraying on the soil surface. Once applied, the beads biodegrade and “free” the enzymes at specific time intervals and for a prolonged time. The enzymes break down long chain hydrocarbon contaminants like TPH’s into short chain hydrocarbons. Unlike the long chain contaminants, these smaller molecules are “bioavailable,” meaning they can be metabolized by microorganisms that naturally exist at the contaminated site. The native population of “good microorganisms” grows and degrades the short chain hydrocarbons until they have all been metabolized into carbon dioxide and water, completely remediating the contamination without creating harmful byproducts. Conventional bioremediation approaches apply “good microorganisms” directly to soil and require three to five applications to achieve effective remediation. Battelle’s treatment is effective with a single application.
We estimate that Battelle’s treatment cost is 5-18 times less expensive than traditional remediation treatments, and seven times less than conventional bioremediation.
In summary, Battelle’s invention
-Directly and indirectly remediates a broad spectrum of contaminants, like TPH, PAH, and PCBs
-Releases enzyme for a prolonged time
-Has two-year shelf life
-Generates no harmful byproducts, only natural carbon dioxide and water
-Is easy to apply; no heavy machinery or damaging excavating/dredging
-Has primary and secondary modes of action to accelerate cleanup
-Saves time, saves money, and is effective with a single application.
-Enhances and harnesses the ecosystem’s natural capacity to degrade pollutants.
With a one-time application, Battelle’s invention produces both rapid and sustained remediation in a cost-effective way, while minimizing impacts to sensitive ecosystems.
ABOUT THE ENTRANT
Type of entry:teamTeam members:Kate Kucharzyk, Tony Duong, Ram Lalgudi, Amy Dindal, Bryan Gemler, Jon Cartlidge, Drake Goolsby, Olga Koper, Krista Smith, Russ Kittel, Ben Eisenmann, Flora Li
Alexa is inspired by:Day in and day out, Battelle scientists and engineers work to solve the world's toughest technical challenges. We brainstorm practical solutions to complex problems, then make them real! Experiencing that process and seeing the results inspires me, every day.