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Researcher works to decarbonize coal use

Dr. Sushanta Mitra, University of Alberta

Source: Chemistry World
Author: Rachel Purser-Lowman
Complete story at: http://rsc.li/1m1J5pV
Paper at: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Results?SearchText=doi:c4ra01628a

With energy demands rising and the increasing importance of low-carbon technologies, scientists in Canada are investigating the microbial conversion of coal into methane, to find a way that coal, especially low grade unmineable coal, can be used, whilst minimising its environmental impact.

Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, releases significantly less carbon dioxide, when burned, than coal. Biological generation of methane in a coal seam results from microbial activity that starts during the early stages of coal formation. Increased pressure and heat eventually destroys the microbes, but secondary methane production can occur when meteoric water infiltrates the cooled coal, bringing new microbes and nutrients.

The researchers, led by Sushanta Mitra at the University of Alberta, built a system, which allows fluid through a column under controlled pressure and temperature conditions, to mimic the natural coal environment so they could identify any dynamic processes. Crushed coal and methanogenic, microbial cultures were placed inside the column, before being flooded with a mineral salt medium to encourage microbial growth.

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