Harvesting coalbed methane for energy production

Coal is the most important fossil fuel on the planet, comprising 70% of the total fossil fuel stock. Coal mining is responsible for 11% of total anthropogenic methane emission thereby contributing to considerable to climate change. Attempts to harvest coalbed methane for energy production are challenged by relatively low methane concentrations.

Associate Professor Mike Manefield in collaboration with Professor Mike Jetten from Radboud University in the Netherlands (one of the most influential microbiologists in the world) investigated whether nutrient and acetate amendment of a non-producing sub-bituminous coal well could transform the system to a methane source.

They tracked cell counts, methane production, acetate concentration and geochemical parameters on a monthly basis for 2 years in one amended and one unamended coal well in Australia. Additionally, the microbial community was analysed by metagenome sequencing. Even though the microbial community had the functional potential to convert coal to methane, we observed no indication that coal was actually converted within the time frame of the study.

The results suggest that even though nutrient and acetate amendment stimulated relevant microbial species, it is not a sustainable way to transform non-producing coal wells into bioenergy factories.

A/Prof Manefield also had the opportunity to visit Radboud University to learn how they run their bioreactors and give a presentation.

Click here for the link to the full paper.


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