Out of the lab and into the field

This is a follow up from a previous post about microbes turning heavy oil and coal into methane.

An estimated six trillion barrels of oil remain underground because the oil has become either solid or too thick to be brought to the surface at economic cost by conventional means. …

Researchers from Canada and the UK expect to begin field trials next month on the ability of anaerobic microbes to process in-situ heavy oil to produce methane—i.e., methanogenic degradation of heavy oil.

Scientists at Newcastle University, England, and the University of Calgary, Canada, have set up a company, Profero Energy Inc, to build on their recent research, which demonstrated how naturally-occurring microbes convert oil to methane over tens of millions of years. The team recently published a paper on their latest work in the journal Nature. (Earlier post.)

The research, led by Professor Ian Head and Dr Martin Jones of Newcastle University and Professor Steve Larter, who works at both Newcastle University and the University of Calgary, concluded that two types of microbe found in environments containing crude oil were responsible for converting it into methane.

First, bacteria called Syntrophus digest the oil and produce hydrogen gas and acetic acid. Secondly, methanogenic Archaea combine the hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce methane.

The research team also discovered that the geological timescale of this process could be shortened to a few hundred days in the laboratory by feeding the oil-based microbes with special nutrients. They reasoned that similar results could be obtained in an oilfield in a timescale of a year to tens of years.

Accordingly, Profero is preparing to move on-site to begin pumping a special mixture of nutrients, dissolved in water, down an oil well above exhausted oil deposits in western Canada to test the process. Source.

This plan is deceptively simple and staggering in it’s implications. The good thing is the time frame is very short because it’s hard to wait for something this world changing.

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