Researchers at Luca Technologies have made a discovery regarding natural gas production in Wyoming's Powder River Basin that could lead to a renewable source of energy for generations to come.Much of eastern Europe, and practically the whole of SE Australia, is sitting on thousands of cubic kilometres of low-grade coal and shale. It looks like it's possible to convert a large part of that to useable fossil fuel. So much so, that the world's energy needs for tens of thousands, not just hundreds, of years could be met. Of course if we do this, then we really will need to do something about Global warming and CO2 content in the atmosphere, something that despite many protagonists of the hypothesis, I've seen little evidence for. A decent-sized volcano puts out quite a few cubic kilometres of greenhouse gasses, rather more than an industrial nation does in a year. But this will change if we all need energy equal to, say, ten times current US expenditure per capita.
The company today announced that laboratory evidence shows that the Powder River Basin (PRB) coals are generating natural gas in real time through the ongoing activity of anaerobic microbes (bacteria that live in the absence of oxygen) resident in those coal fields.
The company has termed sites where this microbial conversion of hydrocarbon deposits (coals, organic shales, or oil) to methane occurs "Geobioreactors,"
Robert Pfeiffer, LUCA Technologies president and chief executive officer commented, "Our research on native coal, water and microbial samples from the PRB has determined that PRB coals can produce natural gas in real time."
"This finding suggests that the gas in the PRB need not be an ancient remnant of microbial activity, as generally believed, but instead is being actively created today."
"Moreover, we can increase or decrease methane production by PRB microbes by altering their access to water or nutrients, or halt gas production entirely by exposing the organisms to oxygen or heat sterilization."
"This finding holds the potential of turning what is today thought to be a finite energy resource into a renewable source of natural gas that could potentially go on for hundreds of years."
Given the increase in Oil prices recently, which are mainly from increased demand on the part of China and so emphatically not a short-term issue, something like this coming along now is especially fortuitous. It may take a decade or even two to get it going, but LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) will likely replace Oil and Coal in most power plants, sooner or later. High-grade coal will most likely be reserved for Steelmaking, and Oil for vehicle fuel and plastics.
So how come this story isn't splashed all over the front pages of newspapers, and on every News TV channel? Beats me.