Researchers isolate microorganisms that convert hydrocarbons to natural gas

August 20th, 2008 - 3:46 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, August 20 (ANI): Researchers at the University of Oklahoma in the US have been able to isolate a community of microorganisms that are capable of converting hydrocarbons into natural gas.

The researchers found that the groundbreaking processknown as anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolismcan be used to stimulate methane gas production from older, more mature oil reservoirs like those in Oklahoma.

The work has now led to the recognition that similar microorganisms may also be involved in problems ranging from the deterioration of fuels to the corrosion of pipelines.

A new OU initiative led by Joseph Suflita, Director of the Institute for Energy and Environment within the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, brings together researchers from multiple disciplines and departments to attack the corrosion problems affecting pipelines, storage tanks and tankers as well as the deterioration of fuels inside such facilities.

According to Suflita, The OU initiative is the only major US initiative of its kind devoted to the problem of biodeterioration and biocorrosion.

Biodeterioration and biocorrosion are fundamental microbiological processes that can cause pipelines, storage facilities and tankers to leak and contaminate the environment.

First, we have to understand how Mother Nature cleans up these spills and we can do this by studying the way microorganisms interact with hydrocarbons, said Suflita.

OU researchers have isolated some interesting organisms that metabolize hydrocarbons in the absence of oxygeninsight that was lacking for a long time.

We want to better understand how organisms eat through these pipelines. Several fundamental mechanisms cause this problem, but it is spotty and doesnt occur all of a sudden, said Suflita.

Rather, biocorrosion occurs over a long period of time, and we are using a series of new molecular and chemical tools to find out why and how this happens, he added.

We think cells grow in communities that adhere to the inner surface of pipelines and form three-dimensional biofilms that can sometimes cause pitting. Once we understand what these microorganisms are doing, we can interrupt their processes or diagnose them more effectively, said Suflita.

While biocorrosion and biodeterioration can be problematic, anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolism also has an upside. The OU researchers found that they can use their organisms to convert hydrocarbons in oil reservoirs to natural gas.

Because two-thirds of US oil is still in place, we can use these organisms to convert residual hydrocarbons into natural gas and create a new source of domestic energy, said Suflita.

The concept of anaerobic metabolism is an innovative process and the OU initiative is the only one of its kind in the United States at the present time. We are also experimenting with shales and other unconventional reservoirs, he added. (ANI)

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