Sustainable remediation of petroleum hydrocarbons using phytotechnologies

Queen’s University at Kingston – Allison Rutter

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Research & Development

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This project explored using native plants and biochar to clean contaminated soil, while reducing GHG emissions in the process.

Soil can become contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs) as a result of accidental spills and improper waste disposal. Cleaning contaminated soil is time-consuming and expensive. It can involve excavating contaminated soil and then trucking it to a proper disposal site. In addition to GHG emissions directly related to the contamination, traditional clean-up strategies generate GHG emissions as a result of both disturbing the soil and transporting it for disposal.

This project is testing a better option. Planting native trees and plants in contaminated soil encourages the growth of petroleum-eating bacteria and removes carbon from the atmosphere naturally. Mixing biochar into the soil helps the plants grow faster, and reduces GHG emissions from organic decay. This project tested native plants and biomass in a greenhouse in preparation for field testing in Alberta.

The techniques could be useful for PHC cleanup across industries — from light products like gasoline, to heavy lubricating oils.