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An evaluation of the potential for biodegradation of methanol in the Fraser River, BC Bennett, Sharon M.

Abstract

Increasing concerns over the use of fossil fuels and the decreasing supply of cheap efficient fuel has led a demand for cost effective and sustainable alternative fuels. Methanol is thought to be a promising alternative fuel for use in fuel cell vehicles and as a gasoline additive. With an increase in demand and consequently, an increase in shipping, storage and distribution facilities, the potential for the release of methanol to the environment is high. In the event of a spill, it is important to understand how the natural environment will respond. This study sought to determine the rate and factors contributing to the natural biodegradation of methanol in the Fraser River. Four experimental trials were conducted over a period of a year. Initial methanol concentrations added were 1000 mg/L and 10000 mg/L and measured using gas chromatography. Comparisons were made between samples with and without nutrient amendments. Total bacterial counts and counts of methanol degrading bacteria were also measured using epifluorescence microscopy and the most probable number technique respectively. ¹⁴C uptake was also analyzed to measure microbial activity. Results of the trials showed that volatilization played a major role in the loss of methanol. Rates of loss ranged from 6 to 180 mg/L/day. Evidence of biodegradation was found in nutrient amended samples at cooler temperatures with an initial methanol concentration of 1000 mg/L. Little to no evidence of biodegradation was found in the other test conditions. Other contributing factors to the biodegradation rate included temperature, nutrients and competition among natural flora in the river water.

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