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Coal-Eating Microorganisms Could Boost Methane Gas Production


Although relatively controversial, fraking has been established as one of the effective techniques for exploiting inaccessible natural gas and oil. However, a number of companies including Luca Technologies (Colorado), and Next Fuel (Wyoming), have tested the use of naturally occurring microorganisms in a possible alternative technique.

These microbes eat coal and extract methane from it. As Julio Friedmann, chief energy technologist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, states, this idea has huge potential to become a significant market opportunity.

Researchers nowadays have much broader understanding of the way these microorganisms function. Nevertheless, it is still quite a challenge to find out what nutrients are needed in order to stimulate the growth of the specific for each coal bed microbes, so that they can be more efficient in producing sufficient amount of methane.

At Luca Technologies, it was established that improved DNA sequencing is very important. According to the CEO Bob Cavner, this ensures rapid coal bed sampling and within three days, a full description of the type of organisms present at a particular site can be obtained. In addition, the company uses wells that already exist, which cuts down the cost and consequently increases the profit despite of the low prices of natural gas in the US.

This approach could be highly beneficial in Asian countries, where the prices are quite high. Hence, Next Fuel is introducing this technology exactly there, with large-scale demonstrations in Indonesia and China.

It is still hard to predict how much methane can be produced using this technique. Yet, Canver is convinced that even if one third of the coal is turned into gas it would be a great success.  Friedmann, however, is not so optimistic due to the many unknown and difficult to predict variables.

Via: Technology Review

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