Engineering Rhamnolipid Biosurfactants as Agents for Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery


This investigation considered engineered rhamnolipid biosurfactants as EOR agents that potentially could be manufactured at low cost from renewable resources, and have lower toxicity than synthetic EOR surfactants. This particular biosurfactant comes mainly from the microbe Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Disadvantages of working with this strain include that the chemical structures of the produced rhamnolipids are not easily controlled, plus there is a preference to use instead a completely non-pathogenic microbe. Towards that end, the study took the approach to clone the genetic information from a P. aeruginosa strain into E. coli to manipulate systematically the structure of the created rhamnolipids and evaluate their EOR performance by themselves (no co-surfactant or viscosity chemical added). Six E.coli strains (ETRA, ETRAB, ERAC, ETRABC, ETRhl, ETRhl-RC) that carry different combinations of the genes involoved in rhamnolipid bio-synthesis were successfully engineered and tested for their rhamnolipid production. Sand-pack core flooding tests were run to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of these products as agents for enhanced oil recovery. The brine with optimized pH and salt concentration in which a given biosurfactant product has its lowest IFT was used to saturate the core, perform a waterflood, and prepare the surfactant solution. Injection of 6 PV of only a 250 ppm rhamnolipid biosurfactant solution and 4 PV of a brine chaser could recover as much as half of the waterflood residual hydrocarbon (n-octane). The engineered E. coli strains that include more of the implanted genetic code had the better performance in these oil displacement tests. The IFT, biosurfactant concentration and pH of effluents from core flooding were monitored to address EOR mechanisms and quantify the adsorption of each product in the sand pack.

Meeting Name

SPE International Symposium on Oilfield Chemistry (2007: Feb. 28 - Mar. 2, Houston, TX)


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Biosurfactants; Genetic codes; Microbial enhanced oil recovery; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; Rhamnolipids; Lipids; Microorganisms; Pathogens; Renewable energy resources; Surface active agents; Toxicity

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Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

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© 2007 Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Feb 2007