Significance of Microbiology in Porous Hydrocarbon Related Systems

  • Nicolas Augsburger

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


This thesis explores bio-mediated processes in geotechnical and petroleum engineering. Worldwide energy consumption is rapidly increasing as the world population and per-capita consumption rises. The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) predicts that hydrocarbons will remain the primary energy source to satisfy the surging energy demands in the near future. The three topics described in detail in this document aim to link microbiology with geotechnical engineering and the petroleum industry. Microorganisms have the potential to exploit residual hydrocarbons in depleted reservoirs in a technique known as microbial enhanced oil recovery, MEOR. The potential of biosurfactants was analyzed in detail with a literature review. Biosurfactant production is the most accepted MEOR technique, and has been successfully implemented in over 700 field cases. Temperature is the main limiting factor for these techniques. The dissolution of carbonates by microorganisms was investigated experimentally. We designed a simple, economical, and robust procedure to monitor diffusion through porous media. This technique determined the diffusion coefficient of H+ in 1.5% agar, 1.122 x 10-5 cm2 sec-1, by using bromothymol blue as a pH indicator and image processing. This robust technique allows for manipulation of the composition of the agar to identify the effect of specific compounds on diffusion. The Red Sea consists of multiple seeps; the nearby sediments are telltales of deeper hydrocarbon systems. Microbial communities associated with the sediments function as in-situ sensors that provide information about the presence of carbon sources, metabolites, and the remediation potential. Sediments seeps in the Red Sea revealed different levels of bioactivity. The more active seeps, from the southern site in the Red Sea, indicated larger pore sizes, higher levels of carbon, and bioactivity with both bacteria and archaeal species present.
Date of AwardJul 2017
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorJ. Carlos Santamarina (Supervisor)


  • Biotechnology
  • Bioremediation
  • MEOR
  • Petroleum Microbiology
  • Acid Transport

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