"Oil within the Monument Butte field has a waxy composition that may facilitate the strong real-time methane generation we see at this site," commented Mr. Pfeiffer. "If so, then areas with large accumulations of waxy oil ?for example, the Daqing Field in Northeast China -- could prove to be important sites for the bioconversion of residual oil to methane and the restoration of these 'spent' sites to economic energy production."
Potential for Methane "Farming"
It has long been known that certain microorganisms are "methanogens" ?microbes that generate methane by metabolizing organic materials including various hydrocarbons. While it has also been generally accepted that many of the known methane deposits were produced by such organisms, most of this production was thought to have occurred millions of years ago, when the hydrocarbon deposits were less mature and closer to the surface of the earth.
Luca scientists, employing the tools of modern biotechnology and genomics, have now shown that living methane generating, microbial consortia are present and actively forming methane within some of these hydrocarbon substrates. In addition to demonstrating that methane formation by these microbes can be stimulated by the introduction of nutrients or suppressed by heat sterilization or the introduction of oxygen, Luca has shown that radio-labeled CO2 (carbon dioxide) introduced to these substrate samples is converted to radio-labeled methane. This demonstrates that the methane formation is the result of a biological process occurring today.
Luca is actively working to characterize Geobioreactors and the microbial consortia that populate them, as well as to understand the metabolic processes