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 recently, 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 seam ‘sweet spots’.
“We are discovering ways to culture micro-organisms that produce methane and pin point the nutrients and environmental conditions that encourage their activity,” Dr Faiz said.
“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,” Dr Faiz said.
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,” Dr Faiz said. 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.
CSIRO initiated the National Research Flagships (www.csiro.au/flagships) to provide science-based solutions in response to Australia’s major research challenges and opportunities.
The nine Flagships form multidisciplinary teams with industry and the research community to deliver impact and benefits for Australia.
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