A reliance on fossil fuels as a source of energy has resulted in the generation of pollutants which have entered the environment. Health of humans, animals, plants and microorganisms has been compromised due to activities linked to fossil fuel extraction, processing and use. Coal conversion to value added products has been investigated in an effort to reduce the cumulative effects of waste generated during mining. Clean coal technology, developed to convert coal into value added products with reduced pollution, has been a major source of liquid petroleum in South Africa. Although the conversion process, neither generates waste nor pollutes the soil environment, the final products either through accidental or deliberate spillage can have a severe and protracted impact. Biological methods for combating pollutants generated within the fossil fuels sector are preferred to mechanical or physicochemical practices. This is due to the production of non- or less toxic by-products, cost effectiveness and safety. In this manuscript, an overview of the approaches adopted and factors influencing microbial metabolism of fossil fuel contaminants in soil and water bodies is presented. In particular, emphasis is placed on bacteria as biocatalysts of choice and their ability to degrade waste coal and liquid petroleum hydrocarbons.
Key words: Fossil fuels, coal, petroleum hydrocarbons, biodegradation, pollutants.
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