German oil and gas company Wintershall is engaged in a research project exploring the use of the fungus Schizophyllum commune in polymer flooding.
The fungus produces abiopolymer, schizophyllan, that researchers say tolerates high temperatures, maintains good mechanical stability and is fully biodegradable.
The technology could be an effective enhanced oil recovery (EOR) tool in certain reservoir conditions, says Klaus Langemann, head of technology at Wintershall.
"Biopolymers tend to have a much higher stability towards challenging reservoir conditions such as high temperature and high salinity," Langemann says.
"Chemically derived polymers typically don't show this stability, and show mechanical degradation under shear stress.
"Most of the world's oil reserves are located in the Middle East, where such conditions prevail.
"Biopolymers tend to have a much higher stability towards challenging reservoir conditions such as high temperature and high salinity. "
Klaus Langemann, Wintershall
"So, we believe the potential for chemical EOR using various methods in the Middle East is very significant, and that's why we focus our efforts there.
"Another advantage is of course the environmental benefit of a biopolymer, especially when it comes to disposal of the re-produced EOR fluid."