Is fuel oil biodegradable? (7 uses of fuel oil)

This blog article shall answer the question of the biodegradability of fuel oil.

It shall also cover other areas such as:

  • The uses of fuel oil.
  • The biodegradation process.
  • The bioremediation process.
  • The eco-friendliness of fuel oil.

Is fuel oil biodegradable?

Yes, fuel oil is biodegradable. Some bacterial and fungal microorganisms break down oil in the soil and use it as a source of carbon for their metabolism. Fuel oil is degraded at different rates under different conditions. The process of oil biodegradation can be enhanced by providing nutrients to the microorganisms.

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradation is the process by which microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi break down organic tissue into small biomass, producing carbon dioxide, water, or methane.

Heat is also produced during the process of biodegradation and is lost to the environment. 

The main agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi. They break down organic materials, using them as a source of carbon to make food and energy.

Microbes can use either oxygen or other chemical compounds to break down organic matter. When they use oxygen, the process is called aerobic biodegradation.

When microorganisms use any other chemical to break down organic matter instead of oxygen, the process is called anaerobic biodegradation.

The products of aerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and water. The products of anaerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and methane.

The biodegradation process occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and finally assimilation. 

Biodeterioration is the first stage of biodegradation that involves abiotic factors such as light, UV radiation, and water to help in the weakening of the structure of organic substances.

Bio-fragmentation is the second stage that involves the physical breakdown of organic matter into small particles, this is due to the biodeterioration of the organic matter in the first stage.

The last stage involves the fungi and the bacteria breaking down the small particles into even smaller biomass, producing heat, water, carbon dioxide, and methane, with the products depending on the type of biodegradation; whether aerobic or anaerobic.

What is fuel oil?

Fuel oil is the product of the distillation of crude oil. It is also called bunker, marine fuel, gasoline, or heavy oil.

Fuel oil is made of lighter distillates such as gasoline, naphtha, and kerosene and heavy residues such as diesel and lubricating oils.

The process of oil distillation is essential to come up with different types of fuels for different uses. 

The uses of fuel oil.

Fuel oil has several applications, either domestic or industrial. The uses include the following:

  • It is used to fuel vehicles and airplanes.
  • It is burned in homes as a source of heat.
  • Electricity can be produced from diesel.
  • It is used to pump generators.
  • It is used to synthesize plastics.
  • It is used to run power plants.
  • It is used to power diesel locomotives.

What are the effects of fuel oil on the environment?

Fuel oil is one of the most used natural products in the world. The oil is distilled into light distillates and heavy residues. These products can easily contaminate the environment.

There are many scenarios of oil spillage in water and soil which have had adverse effects on the living organisms.

The most notable oil catastrophes include:

  • Exxon Valdez 1989 tragedy.
  • Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was a disaster that occurred in 1989, at William Sound, Alaska. 

The Exxon Valdez was an oil tanker that was headed to Long Beach, California. It struck Bligh Reef and spilled over 10.8m United States gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

The spillage led to effects such as:

  • Deaths of thousands of seabirds.
  • Death of thousands of sea otters.
  • Death of harbor seals.
  • Death of bald eagles.
  • Death of a huge number of fish species such as salmon and herring.

The deepwater horizon oil spill.

The deepwater horizon spill occurred in April 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. It is widely regarded as the biggest marine oil spill in history.

It is estimated that close to 210 million US gallons were spilled in the ocean. The disaster emanated from oil spreading to the ocean from oil wells.

The spillage has had long-term effects on marine life. 5 years later, aquatic life such as dolphins was reported to be dying due to the effects of the disaster.

The two aforementioned oil disasters led to the development of biotechnological techniques for dealing with waste treatment in water and land.

What is bioremediation?

Bioremediation is any process of cleaning up the environment by using organisms such as bacteria, fungi, microalgae, and plants. 

The living organisms have been studied and found to contain the ability to sequester materials in their systems and break them into small, nontoxic substances.

Bioremediation involves the use of living organisms, and therefore, it is preferred over the use of chemicals to clean the environment.

Bioremediation involves the use of indigenous organisms to break down pollutants. Nutrients such as phosphorus and sulfur are added to the environment to increase the rate of growth of these organisms.

Bioremediation techniques include:

  • Phytoremediation.
  • Bioventing.
  • Bioattenuation.
  • Biosparging. 
  • Composting.
  • Land farming.
  • Thermal desorption.
  • Vitrification.
  • Air stripping.
  • Bioleaching.
  • Rhizofiltration.
  • Soil washing.

Bioremediation is classified into 2 methods:

  • In situ.
  • Ex-situ.

In situ bioremediation.

This involves treating the polluted areas directly and locally. 

It employs the following techniques.


This is a process that involves the addition of oxygen into the unsaturated zones of the soil. 

The addition of oxygen increases the metabolic reactions of the indigenous organisms, breaking down the pollutants in that particular area.

This process is the most used aerobic degradation technique to break down petroleum wastes such as hydrocarbons.


This process involves adding nutrients such as sulfur and phosphorus in a particular area to enhance the activities of the local bacteria.


This process involves the addition of nutrients to the environment to increase the rate of degradation or the addition of more bacterial organisms to boost the population of the microorganisms, leading to a high rate of degradation.


Biosparging involves the injection of oxygen and nutrients in the groundwater to improve the degradation rate of microorganisms.

Ex-situ bioremediation.

Ex-situ bioremediation involves the transportation of the polluted materials, such as soil, from the point of pollution to another point where it is treated with nutrients and microorganisms to enhance degradation.

The ex-situ techniques include:


This technique is almost similar to bioventing. It involves the addition of aerobic microorganisms to contaminated soil. 

Soil is excavated and an aeration system is used to arrange the soil into piles. Oxygen is added to the piles, which eventually leads to an increased rate of waste degradation.


This process involves the use of window systems. The method is similar to the composting of wastes. 

Soil is often turned to allow good oxygen penetration and also to uniformly spread the contaminants. This increases the rate of aerobic degradation.

Land farming.

This method is usually used for sludge spills. Contaminated soil is dispersed using cyclic rotation to improve the aeration.

The treatment occurs above the land, contamination in deeper soils involves digging up the soil and aerating it.

What are the shortcomings of bioremediation?

The following are the shortcomings of bioremediation.

  • It doesn’t work on every type of pollutant. Some pollutants such as metals and glasses are not easily degraded.
  • The microorganisms can break down the oil hydrocarbons to release even more toxic byproducts.
  • Microbial degradation is highly specific, and different conditions must be met.
  • It takes longer than other techniques such as incineration.
  • Some techniques of bioremediation such as bioventing are very expensive.

Is fuel oil eco-friendly?

No, fuel oil is not eco-friendly. According to a report, The burning of fuel oil produces emissions such as carbon, chlorofluorocarbons, and sulfur oxide gases which are highly toxic and cause the greenhouse effect.

Oil spillage in soil or water leads to the death of plants and aquatic organisms such as plankton and fish.


This blog article has answered the biodegradability of fuel oil.

In addition, it has also covered other areas such as:

  • The uses of fuel oil.
  • The effects of oil pollution.
  • The bioremediation process.
  • The eco-friendliness of fuel oil.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is fuel oil biodegradable?

How long does it take for crude oil to biodegrade?

The rate of biodegradation of crude depends on several factors such as the concentration of the crude oil, the concentration of microorganisms, and other factors such as temperature, pH, and oxygen. 

Therefore, it is not easy to determine the time crude oil will take to break down.

Does kerosene biodegrade?

Yes, kerosene is a short hydrocarbon that is broken down by microorganisms as it is used as a source of carbon for their metabolic reactions.

How does oil decompose?

Oil is decomposed by microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and microalgae. These microorganisms use oil hydrocarbons in their metabolism.


Cassie Rodenberg. ( May 7, 2010). How Oil Breaks Down in Water: Nature has its chemical processes to minimize oil’s impact in seawater- can human dispersant efforts measure up?

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Adriano Pinto Mariano, Daniel Marcos Bonotto, Jonas Contiero. Biodegradability of commercial and weathered diesel oils.

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Ronald M. Atlas, Terry C. Hazen. Oil Biodegradation and Bioremediation: A Tale of the Two Worst Spills in the U.S History.

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