Microbes can produce abundant source of methane as fuel

March 31st, 2009 - 4:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 31 (IANS) A tiny microbe that converts carbon dioxide and water to methane with a bit of solar or wind power, can be a new energy source, according to a team of Penn State engineers.
Methane is preferred over hydrogen because a large portion of the US infrastructure is already set up to easily transport and deliver methane.

These cells are about 80 percent efficient in converting CO2 into methane, if the energy comes from the non-carbon sources like the sun or wind power.

“We were studying making hydrogen in microbial electrolysis cells and we kept getting all this methane,” said Bruce E. Logan, professor of environmental engineering at Penn State. “We may now understand why.”

“All the methane generation going on in nature that we have assumed is going through hydrogen may not be. We actually find very little hydrogen in the gas phase in nature. Perhaps where we assumed hydrogen is being made, it is not,” he said.

Researchers found that the archaea, single-celled micro-organisms, using about the same solar or wind power input, without any organic material, bacteria or hydrogen usually found in microbial electrolysis cells, can produce methane, said a Penn State release.

The findings are reported in this week’s issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

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