Experimental breaking of water/oil emulsions aimed at development of a water separation bacterial process in oil industries

Document Type : Regular Paper


Microbiology and Biotechnology Research Group, Research Institute of Petroleum Industry, Tehran, Iran


Microbial demulsifiers represent a potentially important product for the petroleum industry due to their specific modes of action, relative ease of preparation, biodegradability and low toxicity. An extracellular demulsifier, capable of the rapid break up of model multiple water-crude oil emulsions was obtained from the bacterial isolate Ochrobactrum anthropi RIPI5-1. Demulsifying activity of the cell-free culture filtrate was not age dependent. The time course of demulsification by the whole culture and cell-free culture filtrate showed a similar pattern; the rate of demulsification was 5.21 h-1 and the emulsion half-life time (t1/2) was 5 h. The potential activity of the filtrate was also examined using a complex oilfield emulsion; demulsifying activity (DeI16) was calculated as 42%. Demulsifying activity of whole culture, cell-free culture filtrate and whole cells of strain RIPI5-1 was found to be associated with both the cell surface and extracellularly. Fractionation of the filtrate showed that demulsifying activity was a function of several compounds. The presence of various active demulsifying compounds may explain the ability of the filtrate to break up various crude oil emulsions and therefore represents a promising new technology.