Microbially-Enhanced Coal Bed Methane: Strategies for Increased Biogenic Production

Monday, 15 December 2014
Katie Davis1,2, Elliott P. Barhart2,3, Hannah D. Schweitzer2, Alfred B Cunningham2, Robin Gerlach2, Randy Hiebert4 and Matthew W. Fields2, (1)Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, United States, (2)Center for Biofilm Engineering, Bozeman, MT, United States, (3)USGS, Baltimore, MD, United States, (4)Montana Emergent Technologies, Inc., Butte, MT, United States
Coal is the largest fossil fuel resource in the United States. Most of this coal is deep in the subsurface making it costly and potentially dangerous to extract. However, in many of these deep coal seams, methane, the main component of natural gas, has been discovered and successfully harvested. Coal bed methane (CBM) currently accounts for approximately 7.5% of the natural gas produced in the U.S. Combustion of natural gas produces substantially less CO2 and toxic emissions (e.g. heavy metals) than combustion of coal or oil thereby making it a cleaner energy source. In the large coal seams of the Powder River Basin (PRB) in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, CBM is produced almost entirely by biogenic processes. The in situ conversion of coal to CBM by the native microbial community is of particular interest for present and future natural gas sources as it provides the potential to harvest energy from coal seams with lesser environmental impacts than mining and burning coal.

Research at Montana State University has shown the potential for enhancing the subsurface microbial processes that produce CBM. Long-term batch enrichments have investigated the methane enhancement potential of yeast extract as well as algal and cyanobacterial biomass additions with increased methane production observed with all three additions when compared to no addition. Future work includes quantification of CBM enhancement and normalization of additions. This presentation addresses the options thus far investigated for increasing CBM production and the next steps for developing the enhanced in situ conversion of coal to CBM.