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Hydrocarbon degradation

Approximately 90% of Australia’s famous coal resources are uneconomical to access using traditional mining technologies. This represents an enormous untapped energy resource for use domestically and for export. In this project we propose to develop biological technologies to accelerate the conversion of coal to methane in situ. Clean burning methane can then be harvested to meet future demands for energy. The conversion of coal to methane is a naturally occurring process involving the breakdown of coal by microorganisms. We will identify and address environmental factors limiting this process and further accelerate it through inoculation of coal seams with cultures of mixed microbial communities developed for this purpose.

Supported through an ARC Linkage Project Grant with substantial cash and in-kind contributions from Biogas Energy Pty Ltd this project has large laboratory and field based components exploring the challenges of coal biodegradation on many levels of organisation from chemical, biochemical and organismal through to community level approaches. This project has been operational since January 2010 and represents the largest ARC Linkage Project Grant awarded in Australia in 2009. Lead from the coal face by Dr Mike Manefield and Dr Torsten Thomas this revolutionary microbiology project employs three postdoctoral scientists and draws on the talent of a multitude of young postgraduate scientists interacting directly with industry partners Biogas Energy Pty Ltd and their collaborators.