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founded by Stony Brook University and Battelle

News Release

Number: 03-63e
Released: September 11, 2003
Contact: Peter A. Genzer, 631 344-3174 or Mona S. Rowe, 631 344-5056

This briefing describes research to be presented at the 226th meeting of the American Chemical Society, September 7-11, 2003, in New York City.

Coal-Eating Bacteria May Improve Methane Recovery

NEW YORK, NY — Scientists at the U.S Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory are exploring the use of bacteria to increase the recovery of methane, a clean natural gas, from coal beds, and to decontaminate water produced during the methane-recovery process.

Methane gas, which burns without releasing sulfur contaminants, is becoming increasingly important as a natural gas fuel in the U.S. But the process of recovering methane, which is often trapped within porous, unrecovered or waste coal, produces large amounts of water contaminated with salts, organic compounds, metals, and naturally occurring radioactive elements. “Our idea is to use specially developed bacteria to remove the contaminants from the wastewater, and also help to release the trapped methane,” says Brookhaven chemist Mow Lin.

Lin’s team has developed several strains of bacteria that can use coal as a nutrient and adsorb or degrade contaminants. They started with natural strains already adapted to extreme conditions, such as the presence of metals or high salinity, then gradually altered the nutrient mix and contaminant levels and selected the most hardy bugs (see details).

In laboratory tests, various strains of these microbes have been shown to absorb contaminant metals, degrade dissolved organics, and break down coal in a way that would release trapped methane. The use of such microbe mixtures in the field could greatly improve the efficiency and lower the associated clean-up costs of coal-bed methane recovery, Lin says.

To learn more about this work, see the talk given by Lin during the Division of Fuel Chemistry’s “Synthetic Clean Fuels from Natural Gas and Coalbed Methane: 30 Years Progress Since the First Oil Crisis” session on Thursday, September 11, 2003, at 3:30 p.m. at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, Room 1A13. This research was funded by grants for high-school and undergraduate student research at Brookhaven Lab from Brookhaven Science Associates and DOE’s Office of Science.

Please Note: Mow Lin passed away unexpectedly on Friday, September 12, 2003 while traveling to Beijing.

Other briefings in this series include:
Researchers Develop Counterterror Technologies,
Nanoscale Model Catalyst Paves Way Toward Atomic-Level Understanding,
Reverse Reaction Helps Isolate Important Intermediate,
Designing a Better Catalyst for “Artificial Photosynthesis”
Using Ions to Probe Ionic Liquids, and
Coal-Eating Bacteria May Improve Methane Recovery.