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How Sustainable is Ex-Situ Soil Bioremediation?

Bioremediation biopiles covered in green tarpaulin

Is ERS’ approach to ex-situ bioremediation sustainable from a direct CO2 emissions perspective?


As reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry becomes an increasingly discussed topic, we decided it was time to turn our attention to pre-construction site works and soil remediation specifically. Nature based remediation techniques such as bioremediation – which use microorganisms to break down contaminants into less harmful forms – have long been assumed to be more environmentally friendly compared to other techniques, but is this assumption factually correct? And if so, exactly how much carbon can be saved? The reality is very little research has been done in this area, despite its increasing importance to the industry and the public.


To address this, in February ERS started on a new internal research project looking at the CO2 emissions from our remediation activities. Specifically, we are looking to determine the CO2 emissions from ex-situ bioremediation and compare them to those of landfill disposal, i.e. Is ex-situ bioremediation more sustainable than landfill disposal based on direct CO2 emissions?


A digger working on a landfill site

In addition, by starting to measure CO2 emissions on our own remediation activities, we can start to identify areas where we can make reductions in our emissions. As well as helping to reduce our carbon footprint, implementing technology to reduce our emissions should also help to reduce our project fuel usage, as the majority of CO2 emissions are derived from mobile plant/ machinery onsite. This would also help reduce the impact of recent fuel price increases, plus the removal of tax relief on red diesel for the construction industry.


To assist with the research and help engage the next generation, we created a student placement. Emmanuel Bello, who is currently studying a two year master’s in environmental management at Teesside University, worked on this project after responding to a social media campaign advertising the placement. With glowing references and training in CO2 footprint calculations from his masters, he was the perfect choice for this project.


The placement was only 3 months in duration, however, we now have a functioning CO2 calculator which has enabled us to answer positively the question “Is ERS’ approach to ex-situ bioremediation sustainable from a direct CO2 emissions perspective?” and identify areas for improvement.


Although Emmanuel’s placement has finished, we’re now deciding which aspects to take forward. A separate related laboratory-based student project has also started. News on that to follow!


Glasgow Soil Science Conference Poster

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