Bacteria create cleaner energy

CSIRO scientists are investigating whether injecting coal seams with certain kinds of bacteria and carbon dioxide can produce methane gas.


CSIRO scientists are investigating whether injecting coal seams with certain kinds of bacteria and carbon dioxide can produce commercially viable quantities of methane gas.


Speaking at the 2008 APPEA Conference in Perth this month, CSIRO’s Dr Mohinudeen Faiz said research performed in the Sydney Basin shows that microbial activity can significantly increase the levels of methane in coal seams.


‘We are discovering ways to culture micro-organisms that produce methane and pin point the nutrients and environmental conditions that encourage their activity,’ added Dr Faiz. ‘Increasing methane production from coal seam reservoirs would provide a cleaner way to generate power through the use of methane and will mean significant benefits for Australians and the environment.’


‘Once we can establish the type of environment that encourages growth of the microbes, we plan to stimulate the natural micro-organisms by injecting nutrients that the organisms thrive on, into coal reservoirs.’


The project, which is being delivered through the Energy Transformed National Research Flagship in collaboration with industry, is the first of its kind in Australia. Its success could have major implications for Australia both economically and environmentally.


‘Increasing methane production from coal seam reservoirs would provide a cleaner way to generate power through the use of methane and will mean significant benefits for Australians and the environment,’ said Dr Faiz.


It is anticipated that the CSIRO technology may ultimately allow microbial conversion of CO2 to methane after injecting CO2 into reservoirs. ‘This would reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions whilst providing an energy source,’ said Dr Faiz.


Coal seam methane (CSM) occurs naturally in most deep coal beds and, like natural gas, produces considerably less greenhouse gas emissions, when combusted, than other fossil fuels. Australia is the second largest CSM producer in the world behind the US and it accounts for 40 per cent of Queensland’s natural gas consumption.