This COSIA funded research project aims at developing a passive, upland plant-based remediation technology to remove naphthenic acids (NAs) from oil sands process-affected water (OSPW). This integrated remediation approach takes advantage of the natural genetic diversity and remarkable metabolic capability of plants and their associated microbes to remediate soils. We will screen a range of native plant species for their ability to remove and possibly bioconvert NAs from the soil. This will result in the identification of specific and compatible plant communities that can be applied to an OSPW remediation strategy. Selected plant (and associated microbes) communities would ultimately be deployed in an upland reclamation environment, potentially adjacent to wetlands or settling ponds containing OSPW, where the OSPW would be gravity-fed into the upland vegetation community. This passive, plant-based approach represents a low-input, green technology that can be implemented alongside other established and developing remediation approaches used in the oil sands industry.
Several plant species with tolerance to harsh growing conditions will be tested in this study. These traits include tolerance of high salinity and high levels of dissolved organic compounds, and the ability to grow over a wide range of soil moisture conditions from saturated to extensively dry.
The team consists of a multidisciplinary group of researchers with vast expertise in oil sands activities related to forestry, plant biochemistry and physiology, mass spectrometry, and tailings water management and treatment.