An estimated six trillion barrels of oil remain underground because the oil has become either solid or too thick to be brought to the surface at economic cost by conventional means.
However, scientists at Newcastle University, England, and the University of Calgary, Canada, have set up a company, Profero Energy Inc, to build on their recent research, which demonstrated how naturally-occurring microbes convert oil to natural gas (methane) over tens of millions of years.
The company is preparing to move on-site to begin pumping a special mixture of nutrients, dissolved in water, down an oil well above exhausted oil deposits in western Canada. If the scientists' calculations are correct, natural gas should flow back out, as the microbes thrive on the nutrients, multiply, and digest the tar-like oil at a greatly increased rate.
A major advance in the understanding of the way that petrolium is degraded by microbes underground was made by a research team, led by Professor Ian Head and Dr Martin Jones of Newcastle University and Professor Steve Larter, who works at both Newcastle University and the University of Calgary, which published a ground-breaking paper in January this year in the international academic journal, Nature.
The research provided the answers to a long-standing geological puzzle by revealing that two types of microbe found in environments containing crude oil were responsible for converting it into methane. First, bacteria called Syntrophus digest the oil and produce hydrogen gas and acetic acid (the pungent ingredient of vinegar). Secondly, methanogens, a type of organism known as archaea, combine the hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce methane.
The research team also discovered that the geological timescale of this process could be shortened to a few hundred days in the laboratory by feeding the oil-based microbes with special nutrients. They reasoned that similar results could be obtained in an oilfield in a timescale of a year to tens of years.
Professor Head, an environmental microbiologist in the Institute for Research on Environment and Sustainability at Newcastle University, commented: 'The research we published was important scientifically because it settled an argument that has been running for decades about how oil is degraded in oilfields; it turns out it is converted to natural gas.
'The discovery of how this process works could have major implications for the oil and gas industry because we think we will be able to extend the 20-30 year operating lifespan of a typical oil reservoir.'
In theory, the technology could also be used to produce hydrogen gas from inaccessible oil reserves, he said. Although no market yet exists for this clean fuel, one is likely to develop in the greener world of the future.
Michael Warwicker | alfa
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy