Asphaltene biotransformation for heavy oil upgradation

Arif Nissar Zargar, Ankur Kumar, Anurag Sinha, Manoj Kumar, Ioannis Skiadas, Saroj Mishra, Preeti Srivastava*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Globally, the reserves of heavy crude oil are seven times more abundant than that of light crude, and yet, they are underutilized because of their high viscosity and density, which is largely due to the presence of large amounts of asphaltenes. Biotransformation of heavy oil asphaltenes into smaller metabolites can be used for reducing their viscosity. Several microorganisms capable of asphaltene biodegradation have been reported but only few have been characterized for its biotransformation. In the present study, a 9-membered microbial consortium was isolated from an oil contaminated soil. About 72% and 75% asphaltene biotransformation was achieved by growing cells at shake flask level and in a 1.5 l bioreactor, respectively. A representative structure of asphaltene was constructed based on LC–MS, 1H-NMR, 13C-NMR, FT-IR, ICPMS and elemental analysis (CHNS) of n-heptane purified asphaltene from Maya crude oil. Biotransformation of asphaltene, as analyzed by performing 1H-NMR, FT-IR and elemental analysis, resulted in 80% decrease in S and N when compared to the control along with incorporation of oxygen in the structure of asphaltene. About 91% decrease in the viscosity of the Maya crude oil was observed after two weeks when oil: aqueous phase ratio was 1:9. The results suggest that the isolated microbial consortium can be used for biological upgradation of heavy crude oil. To our knowledge, this is the first report where a microbial consortium resulted in such high asphaltene biotransformation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number127
JournalAMB Express
Issue number1
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Asphaltene
  • Bacterial consortium
  • Heavy coil
  • Reactor
  • Viscosity


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