Investigation of field relevant parameters for microbially enhanced coalbed methane scale up

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


Energy production from coal is projected to decline significantly over the next 30 years, due to concerns over anthropogenic carbon emissions, climate change, and cost. As coal-based energy production decreases, the demand for natural gas is expected to increase. Coalbed methane (CBM), a biogenic natural gas resource found in subsurface coal beds, may aid in meeting the projected increase in demand. However, costs associated with traditional CBM extraction currently make utilizing this resource economically prohibitive due to slow coal-to-methane conversion rates and the necessity to treat co-produced water. Algae can be cultivated in co-produced formation water and the addition of very small amounts of this algal biomass can increase coal-to-methane conversion rates. The goal of this work was to determine the optimal algae amendment concentration for the enhancement of microbial coal-to-methane conversion to maximize return on investment. Concentrations of 13C-labeled algae amendment ranging from 0.01-0.50 g/L (equivalent to 0.0001-0.005 g per g of coal) were tested in coal-containing batch microcosms. Enhanced methane production was observed in all amended microcosms and maximum methane production occurred between 169-203 days earlier than in unamended microcosms. When as little as 0.01 g/L algae amendment was added, 13CH 4 and 12CH 4 tracking revealed that the improvement in coal-to-methane conversion kinetics was due to enhanced coal degradation. Increasing amendment concentrations to 0.05-0.50 g/L improved coal-to-methane conversion rates further, but improvements from amendment concentrations above 0.05 g/L were insignificant. The geologic scope of this CBM enhancement strategy was investigated by studying methane production from five coals ranging in thermal maturity. Biogenic methane was produced from all coals, with subbituminous coals generally producing more methane than thermally mature bituminous coals. The addition of algae amendment to thermally mature coal microcosms resulted in methane production that was comparable to production from unamended, thermally immature coals. This improvement was associated with an increased relative abundance of coal degrading microorganisms. Collectively, this work demonstrates that algae amendment concentrations can be reduced further (to 0.01-0.05 g/L) relative to the previously investigated concentrations (ranging from 0.1-0.5 g/L) and still improve coal-to-methane conversion rates for a range of coal sources.




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