press release

Unocal establishes university partnership to research cleanup technology

$1.3 million to Cal Poly Biotech Institute

Santa Maria, Nov. 21 -- Unocal is awarding a $1.3 million grant to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, to launch a collaborative research project aimed at developing "environmentally sensitive" technology to aid petroleum companies in cleaning up contaminated sites.

The grant, to be funded over the next three years, includes nearly $1 million in cash and more than $350,000 in research equipment.

The research will be directed by Cal Poly microbiology professor Raul Cano, who heads the university's new Environmental Biotechnology Institute. Cano is known internationally for his research involving ancient DNA and Dinosaur-Age microorganisms.

He, along with other scientists and students, will establish a living laboratory at Unocal's Guadalupe oil field to explore ways to improve a technology known as environmental bioremediation.

Bioremediation occurs when bacteria already in the soil eat the petroleum contamination as a food source.

The research is expected to create more effective methods that could be used to eliminate petroleum-contaminated sites around the world by turning pollutants into harmless by-products such as water, carbon dioxide and various forms of salt.

According to Cano, bioremediation is emerging as an effective and safe method to treat sites contaminated by oil.

"But our research will be unique," Cano said. "By testing untried hypotheses, we want to determine whether using a consortium of different microbes will enhance remediation."

Paul West, general manger for Unocal California Operating Services, said, "The research findings will help improve the effectiveness of bioremediation. This collaboration will have far-reaching impacts because we fully expect that the findings will have the ability to be applied to help clean up other petroleum contaminated sites."

Cano also expressed enthusiasm for the promise of this partnership. "This is basically a win-win situation," Cano said, "for Cal Poly and its students, the community and Unocal. It provides us with a field lab in which we can teach our students in a real-life situation.

"If we are successful, it will provide the oil industry with ways to address some of its most serious problems."

Cal Poly President Warren J. Baker cites the partnership as a prime example of what can be accomplished when a public university and private corporation join forces.

"Together we are embarking on a project to find solutions that could potentially have far-reaching consequences. I'm also pleased that Unocal is supporting what Cal Poly does best -- providing hands-on education for our students under the direction of top professors."

Cano will direct a team of five faculty members and approximately eight students in the project. The Environmental Biotechnology Institute that Cano heads will eventually explore a range of solutions to problems through the use of microorganisms.

The Guadalupe oil field was contaminated by diluent, which was used to thin the produced crude oil. Approximately 113 acres of the 2,300-acre field are affected.

The research is scheduled to begin in December.

Updated: November 1996