MEC Systems Summary

NETL’s pioneering research in the field of microbial enhanced coalbed systems (MEC Systems) holds promise for expanding the use of unminable coal beds.

MEC Systems research at NETL focuses on developing techniques to optimize biological conversion of coal to methane, boosting the amount of naturally occurring methane in coal seams. As methane becomes a significant global energy resource, inexpensive ways to stimulate indigenous microbial activity in unminable coal seams—where coal removal is uneconomical—could transform untapped coal reserves into accessible natural gas. Methods for increasing methane productivity will help keep energy affordable while accommodating the increasing demand.

A three-part strategy will help researchers promote coalbed conditions necessary to increase methane production:

(1) Gain a better understanding of the microorganisms present in various coal basins

(2) Investigate the microbial coal-to-methane production of various coal basins

(3) Test nutrient amendments to promote microbial coal-to-methane production

Adjusting coalbed conditions, such as nutrient availability or coal surface area, may stimulate the natural microbial coal-to-methane process. A thorough characterization of the microbial processes important to coal-to-methane conversion, followed by experimental analysis of optimal coalbed conditions, will help NETL researchers determine the most efficient, cost-effective methods of increasing this valuable resource.

NETL researchers plan to characterize little understood microbial communities in coal systems with lab tests, pilot-scale field tests, and coalbed methane production optimization techniques. The work is performed by an interdisciplinary team of federal, contractor, and academic scientists and engineers.

Nutrient amendment injected into the coal seam, stimulating microbial methane production. Nutrient amendment injected into the coal seam, stimulating microbial methane production.