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ISSE Seed Project: Degradation of Organic Constituents in Fracturing Fluids Using Combined Electrochemical-Biological Oxidation

Principal Investigator: Kim Carter, Civil and Environmental Engineering

2014-2015 Report

The oil and gas industry experienced an increase in natural gas production in the United States due to the advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The process, which requires millions of gallons of water and various additives to be injected into the subsurface, has caused many in the environmental community to be concerned because of the industry’s previous lack of transparency concerning the ingredients in the chemical additives making up the hydraulic fracturing fluid. Chemicals such as friction reducers, biocides, and anti-scaling agents are used to optimize the hydraulic fracturing process. However, when the spent water returns after fracturing is complete, both the chemical constituents used to fracture the well and the minerals from the shale formation return too. This waste has been known to cause water quality issues, as previous methods allowed the water to be released into municipal wastewater treatment plants.

schematic of processes
Schematic of the processes investigated through this project for the breakdown of chemical species using microbial and electrochemical breakdown. These methods will be combined to determine if the processes can be optimized if performed in conjunction with each other.

This ISSE-supported project has been used to investigate specific chemicals in fracturing fluids and the potential for microorganisms to use these chemicals as electron donors/acceptors, in order to remove them from water. Specifically, this project has been looking at the microbial degradation of 2-Butoxyethanol and 3-Furfuraldehyde using microorganisms from a wastewater treatment plant’s aerobic digester. Over the last year, we have developed a method to extract and detect 2-Butoxyethanol from water and water containing high levels of sodium chloride. Using this method, we have been able to determine the amount of the 2-Butoxyethanol and 3-Furfuraldehyde remediated by the aerobic microbial communities.

We are developing a process that will be used to remove some of the chemical species from wastewater. The next phase of this research is to perform electrochemical experiments to determine if these compounds can be degraded using electrical currents. Once these experiments are completed, the electrochemical method will be combined with the microbial degradation to determine if the remediation process can be improved. The treatment process can impact the gas and oil industry and hydraulic fracturing, as well as the semi-conductor, textile, and pharmaceutical industries and the way these businesses treat their wastewater for disposal. Data from these experiments will be used to write a proposal to be submitted to the National Science Foundation’s Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) Division’s Environmental Engineering Program.