Primary Investigator: Peter Kang
Industry Partners: Barr Engineering, Bay West
Award Type: Seed Grant – Postgraduate Research Scholar
Problem: From 2017 to 2021, Minnesota received reports of 1,340 petroleum release incidents. Most of these incidents originated in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, which is underlain by sediments and fractured aquifers. Bioremediation is a solution to fixing contaminated soil and aquifers. However, the presence of non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPL), which are liquid contaminants like oil or petroleum that don’t dissolve easily in water, make bioremediation difficult. A large amount of NAPL becomes trapped in areas inaccessible to bacteria required in bioremediation processes.
Solution: Fungi have the ability to penetrate porous materials using their hyphae, which are thin, hair-like tubes, and could be used to penetrate rocks and crevasses containing NAPL. Therefore, fungus with hyphae, known as branching fungus, could remediate areas with trapped NAPLs. This project will investigate the best ways to utilize branching fungus for NAPL removal.
Impact: Using microfluidics, researchers at Kang lab visualized fungi hyphal penetration and growth patterns into oil-water surfaces in porous media for the first time. Combining visual laboratory experiments and sediment batch experiments, this project will lead to novel insights that can be applied to bioremediation fields, biomedical engineering, microbial-enhanced oil recovery, and industrial fermentative processes. This project also includes outreach activities such as the creation of a five-minute outreach video and undergraduate internships for students from underrepresented groups.