Fuel Producing Bacteria

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Luca Technologies raises $76 million for microbes that 'eat' coal, 'breathe out' natural gas

Luca Technologies
Technology Review - Published By MIT

Fuel from Coal-Eating Microbes

A process for converting coal into natural gas could help reduce emissions.

Luca Technologies, a startup based in Golden, CO, has raised $76 million to scale up a process that uses coal-digesting microorganisms to convert coal into methane. The process is designed to operate underground, inside coal beds. Methane, the key component of natural gas, can then be pumped out and used to generate electricity or power vehicles.

Gas bugs: Methane-generating bacteria on a coal sample from Wyoming's Powder River Basin, viewed by scanning electron microscopy.
Credit: Luca Technologies

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How a Geobioreactor Functions

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. Through a series of steps, 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.

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Luca Technologies raises $76 million for microbes that 'eat' coal, 'breathe out' natural gas
Technology Review: Fuel from Coal-Eating Microbes
Luca Technologies
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