Although the potential of microorganisms to degrade contaminants like petroleum hydrocarbons has been known for more than 100 years, the technical application of this knowledge has a history of only about 15 years. During this time biological soil remediation has made strong development, marked by great efforts in research and development, manifold conceptual and technical innovations, as well as economical ups and downs.
Today biological treatment of contaminated soil is the most-used technology for large-scale soil remediation (Schmitz and Andel, 1997), with global proliferation and an expanding international market (Cookson, 1995). The heap technique has an especially high potential for widespread use, because this technology is easy to handle and needs only a low technical and monetary input.
A large number of investigations and case studies all over the world have shown the potentials and limits of soil remediation. Biological treatment of contaminated soil by the heap technique is considered to be the most effective and competitive technology for dealing with pollution by petroleum hydrocarbons (Schulz-Berendt, 1999). Nevertheless, there is some need for further development, especially for technical solutions to enhance the height of soil heaps or to establish thermophilic conditions to use the high metabolic potential of extremophile microorganisms (Sorkoh et al., 1993; Feitkenhauer, 1998).
This chapter describes the principles of the heap technique and the different approaches and technological solutions. It also shows the advantages and limits of this technique and the research being done to overcome these problems. Additionally, it discusses some economical and legal considerations.
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