Remediation research gets big boost

University of Saskatchewan soil researcher Steven Siciliano has been awarded a $2 million Industrial Research Chair (IRC) to further develop sustainable ways of cleaning up underground sites contaminated with diesel or gasoline, of which there are more than 30,000 in Canada.

Siciliano and his team will research sustainable on-site remediation techniques—breaking down hydrocarbons from fuel using bacteria and fungi—at six former Co-op fuel station sites in Western Canada.

"We're using new ways of fertilizing the naturally occurring underground organisms with phosphorus so that these organisms can degrade soil pollutants," said Siciliano. "This is safer, cheaper and more sustainable than the traditional approach of excavating polluted soils and moving them to a landfill or treatment site."

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) will each provide $1 million over a five-year, renewable term.

"With partners like the university, FCL is helping to take research from the lab to sites across Western Canada," said FCL CEO Scott Banda. "We're developing new standards of remediating contaminated sites without negatively impacting the environment. In the Co-op spirit of community building, we're committed to openly transferring knowledge with our academic and industry partners."

Siciliano has been researching remediation approaches at former Co-op gas station sites with FCL since 2012. As research chair, he will also co-chair the Sustainable In-Situ Remediation Co-operative Alliance (SIRCA). Formed by FCL in 2014, SIRCA brings together researchers, universities and co-operatives to advance research activities and remediation technologies.

More than 16 U of S undergraduate and graduate students will contribute to the research.

"Through this major public-private investment, we will work alongside industry to bring leading-edge technology to a global problem, while providing hands-on research training for our students," said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president research. "This exciting collaboration is producing new remediation approaches that will be better for the environment, less disruptive to businesses, and more cost-effective for cities, towns and villages."

IRCs are funded jointly by NSERC and industry and must be in an area of high priority for both the university and the industrial partner. The funding supports salaries for students and other research personnel, equipment and research materials.

"The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council is proud to support Steven Siciliano and his leading work in the soil sciences," said NSERC President Dr. B. Mario Pinto. "A strong foundation of discovery research plays a critical role in turning ideas into innovation. Whether these ideas lead to the creation of new products or have other societal impacts, NSERC Industrial Research Chairs address the most important research challenges facing industry sectors, while also training the next generation of scientific researchers, leaders and entrepreneurs."

In 2013, Siciliano was among a group of U of S and Saskatchewan Polytechnic researchers, in partnership with FCL, who received an NSERC grant of $750,000 over three years for similar research. For more information on this research, funded through the NSERC-College-University I2I award, watch this video.
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