NETL efforts focus on improving knowledge of native microbial community in various coal seams and changes in microbial community with nutrient stimulation.

Geographic taxonomy profile

Coalbed methane is currently produced in over 9 different major coal basins across the US.  MEC Systems has the potential to convert the unmineable coal from these basins into a viable energy source.  However, very little is known about the natural microbial consortia that facilitate the coal-to-methane conversion in these different coal seams.  Additionally, there is currently no study correlating methane production and coalbed conditions to the crucial methane-producing microbial consortia.

Coal core and fluid samples are currently being collected from every major coal basin in the US.  Next generation sequencing will be used to construct 16S taxonomy profiles of the coal seams.  Principal Component Analysis will compare the resulting microbiology data to coalbed conditions and methane production to determine the correlation of the microbiology to the potential of biogasification.  This study will provide insight on target microbial communities related to higher methane production levels.  In the future, this may allow improved selection of future biogasification sites.

Metagenomic analysis

 In addition to 16S taxonomy profiles, metagenomics will be employed to determine the potential functional pathways present in the microbial communities from the Appalachian Coal Basin.  Identification of crucial functional pathways, such as coal biodegradation and methane production, will lead to a better understanding of 1) the coal-to-methane conversion, 2) the microorganisms responsible for this conversion, and 3) the nutrients required to bolster this conversion in situ.

Next generation sequencing and bioinformatics analysis methods will be utilized to identify these crucial functional pathways.  Recovery and characterization of genetic material (nucleic acid) from coalbed environments will enable taxonomic identification of these communities and importantly, elucidation of metabolic pathways contributing to the ecology of the system.

This next generation sequencing and bioinformatics techniques will be utilized throughout the in situ and ex situ experiment.  16S taxonomy profiles will be employed to assess the structural changes (what microorganisms are present and in what quantity) induced during nutrient amendments. Metagenomics profiles will be employed to assess the functional changes (what metabolic pathways are present and potentially active) induced during nutrient amendments.




Geomicrobiologist, Djuna Gulliver, Ph. D., extracting DNA for downstream sequencing



Microorganisms native to the coal seam may be stimulated to convert coal to methane by adding limited nutrients