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Assessment of in situ biodegradation of fuel additives (mtbe, etbe) using innovative concepts based on stable isotope labelled substrates


Fuel oxygenates were developed in the 1970s as octane enhancers to replace toxic additives like lead, which were phased out of gasoline. Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) is by far the most commonly used oxygenate worldwide and in Europe, large amounts of MTBE are manufactured and used each year. As a result of this intense use and its physical-chemical properties, MTBE has become one of the most frequently detected volatile organic compounds in groundwater.

However, ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE) is be coming a preferred alternative to MTBE in some countries of Europe due to tax incentives for the application of biomass-derived ethanol which is utilized to produce this compound. Some high polluted sites have been identified in Europe in the last years, particularly in Germany, becoming obvious how important knowledge of fuel oxygenates natural attenuation processes is with regard to cost-effective management of contaminated sites and accomplishing the new EU chemical legislation. The main scientific aim o f the present project is the assessment of in situ biodegradation of fuel oxygenates (MTBE, ETBE) in gasoline-impacted sites. This purpose will be accomplished by the application of innovative methodologies that combine the use of unique biofilm-sampling systems under in situ conditions with advanced stable isotope and labelling techniques.

In this framework, the objectives will be to
(1) prove unequivocally the assimilation of fuel oxygenates with formation of biomass by indigenous microorganisms,
(2) to use this transformation as a quantitative indicator for in situ biodegradation,
(3) identify and compare the microbial community composition with different geochemical conditions and different carbon substrates,
(4) link these processes to active organisms and
(5) elucidate metabolic diversity.

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