Friday, December 26, 2008

In-Situ Coal to Methane via Microbes & More

Luca Technologies has raised almost $76 million to turn inaccessible coal into methane for safe and clean extraction. Luca will use injected micro-organisms to perform the coal to methane transformation.
In a nutshell, the microorganisms eat coal and methane comes out the other end, which is really the same thing that occurs when cows eat grass. Burning methane is cleaner than burning coal. Thus, Luca’s bugs can cut down the fumes and pollution from what is probably the inevitable continued consumption of coal.

The microbes can also eat dirty shale oil. They are anaroebic too.

This sort of biogenic production of methane is already taking place underground naturally, the company has said in published papers. Luca’s goal is to commercialize and standardize it. Microbes are the central players in a number of clean tech companies: Amyris, Genomatica, Cambrios, ZeaChem, Mascoma. _Greentech
A different type of in situ coal to gas process is planned by Laurus Energy, which plans to perform in situ gasification using a high tech igniter. Laurus intends to separate the CO2 from the H2 and CH4, and use the CO2 for oil well extraction and the flammable gases for producing electricity (hopefully CHP) in a combined cycle process for high efficiency.
It works like this. Rather than mine coal in open pits, Laurus digs a deep production well in which it sticks an industrialized cigar lighter. This ignites the coal still locked in subterranean seams. The coal then turns into a synthetic gas, which gets drawn to the surface through another well.

Laurus then fractionalizes the syngas: carbon dioxide is separated and sent via a pipe to oil fields, where it is injected deep into other wells to help pull crude out of the ground. The rest of the gases-a combination of hydogen, methane and hydrocarbons-is then burnt in a gas-fueled power plant. _Greentech
Coal is an abundant and near ubiquitous substance over large sections of the planet subsurface. Developing cleaner and more efficient ways of utilising coal as an energy source will be crucial for bridging the energy gap between the years of cheap oil, and the coming years of cheap abundant sustainable energy from enhanced geothermal, nuclear fusion (fingers crossed), advanced bio-energy, and utility scale solar with integrated large scale storage. Nuclear fission has the potential to be a significant provider of power for at least the next century, but in the long run, the other four are far superior.

The point is that we are at least 30 years away from being able to utilise the big three sustainables. Oil may carry us that far if the oil dictatorships are taken over by enlightened democracies -- but what are the odds? Coal is the dark dirty horse that is capable of being cleaned up at least to the level of oil and gas. Coal can bridge the gap, as long as the Luddites who are in power do not cut us all off at the throats in their religious zeal for the carbon hysteria orthodoxy and crusade.

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