Findings in environmental science are rarely applied commercially. Ray Sambrotto, a microbiologist and associate professor at Columbia University’s Lamont- Doherty Earth Observatory co-founded Allied Microbiota with Frana James, drawing on five years of exploratory research to identify microbes capable of remediating contaminated soil to address the legacy of environmental pollutants.
Contaminated soil is a problem in virtually every town and city, with acres of industrial and agricultural land polluted by lead, hydrocarbons, dioxins, the toxic chemical compounds known as PCBs and more.
Soil remediation usually involves hauling the contaminated soil to a landfill or incinerator and replacing it with clean soil. The costs per ton can be high, depending on the contaminants, the distance to the landfill and whether it’s incinerated.
Allied’s staff has found bacillus microbes that are capable of breaking down PCBs and other recalcitrant contaminants. “We’re seeing breakdown rates of 20% or 30% per day,” Sambrotto said.
Bioremediation has existed for decades but recent advances in genetic mapping—identifying 99.9% of the microbes older methods could not—accelerated its growth. Not only may it greatly lower costs, it actually destroys contaminants, rather than just moving them.
Last year the startup partnered with Clean Earth, a big soil-handling and waste-management firm, to conduct large-scale commercial tests. To date, it’s successfully tested microbes in hundreds of pounds of soil. For commercial applications, it must reach hundreds of tons. Allied’s ultimate goal is to use microbes in situ to clear soil, groundwater and sediments.
Article courtesy of Crain’s New York