BASF Venture Capital Invests in Biotech Firm Targeting Biogenic Methane Production from Fossil Fuel Resources
|A SEM image of in-situ microbes in coal.|
BASF Venture Capital America, Inc. is investing $3 million in LUCA Technologies. LUCA is developing a technology platform that uses microorganisms to reactivate or intensify the production of methane from finite fuels such as coal, shale or oil. (Earlier post.)
LUCA is classifying and studying anaerobic microorganisms that metabolize oil, shale and coal within the earth into natural gas. LUCA describes these methane production sites underground as Geobioreactors. The company wants to develop such Geobioreactors into methane farms.
According to LUCA, the biogenic creation of methane from a higher molecular weight hydrocarbon source is a multi-step process, most likely accomplished by a consortium of microorganisms acting together in a symbiotic fashion. Various organisms in the consortium breakdown the large hydrocarbon molecules in coal or oil into intermediate, water-soluble compounds, which are then reduced to even smaller hydrocarbon molecules, and finally metabolized into methane by a group of organisms known as methanogens.
In order for a Geobioreactor to function, the appropriate environmental conditions must be present, including an abundant hydrocarbon substrate (such as a coal bed), a water-saturated environment, a complete absence of free oxygen, and the presence of the correct consortia of organisms.
|The addition of ”amendment” nutrients enhanced the production of methane in LUCA experiments.|
The basic concept of a Geobioreactor is to nurture the consortium of microorganisms through the injection of supplemental nutrients and to then remove the gas without disrupting water flow or the anaerobic conditions.
Current production techniques for the extraction of coal-bed methane, however, entail the disruption of the conditions required for biogenic methane production. Groundwater is pumped out, which also allows the influx of air.
|Basic concept of a Geobioreactor.|
LUCA Technologies estimates that—assuming a 1% conversion rate of coal into methane—a reserve such as the Powder River Basin has the capacity to produce 86 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of biogenic methane over a 15-20 year period. Under current coal-bed methane extraction techniques, the PRB has potential of production about 30 TCF.
LUCA will use proceeds from the financing round to continue its research and development activities in the laboratory, and to support testing of the technology in coal beds either on its own or through partnerships with energy companies.