Biogenic formation of methane from coal is of great interest as an underexploited source of clean energy. The goal of some coal bed producers is to extend coal bed methane productivity and to utilize hydrocarbon wastes such as coal slurry to generate new methane. However, the process and factors controlling the process, and thus ways to stimulate it, are poorly understood. Subbituminous coal from a nonproductive well in south Texas was stimulated to produce methane in microcosms when the native population was supplemented with nutrients (biostimulation) or when nutrients and a consortium of bacteria and methanogens enriched from wetland sediment were added (bioaugmentation). The native population enriched by nutrient addition included Pseudomonas spp., Veillonellaceae, and Methanosarcina barkeri. The bioaugmented microcosm generated methane more rapidly and to a higher concentration than the biostimulated microcosm. Dissolved organics, including long-chain fatty acids, single-ring aromatics, and long-chain alkanes accumulated in the first 39 days of the bioaugmented microcosm and were then degraded, accompanied by generation of methane. The bioaugmented microcosm was dominated by Geobacter sp., and most of the methane generation was associated with growth of Methanosaeta concilii. The ability of the bioaugmentation culture to produce methane from coal intermediates was confirmed in incubations of culture with representative organic compounds. This study indicates that methane production could be stimulated at the nonproductive field site and that low microbial biomass may be limiting in situ methane generation. In addition, the microcosm study suggests that the pathway for generating methane from coal involves complex microbial partnerships.
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Stimulation of methane generation from nonproductive coal by addition of nutrients or a microbial consortium