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Termites may help extract clean energy from coal - Study

Power News - Published on Mon, 14 Jan 2019

Image Source: ET EnergyWorld
Termites may hold the key to transforming coal a big polluting chunk of the global energy supply into cleaner energy for the world, according to a study. The study, published in the journal Energy and Fuels, found that a community of termite-gut microbes converts coal into methane, the chief ingredient in natural gas. The study, which produced computer models of the step-by-step biochemical process, was a collaboration between the researchers at University of Delaware and ARCTECH, a company based in Virginia, US. Professor Prasad Dhurjati from the University of Delaware said that "It may sound crazy at first termite-gut microbes eating coal but think about what coal is. It is basically wood that is been cooked for 300 million years.”

Termites can digest coal, releasing methane and producing humic matter, a beneficial organic fertiliser, as a byproduct.

Each microbe contributes to one or more steps in this intricate digestion process, in which there are hundreds of steps, and where the product of one microbe may serve as food for the next.

Mr Dhurjati said that "These microbes make millions of surgical nicks in the coal, using enzymes derived from a vast array of genes.”

Several companies have attempted to commercialise this microbial breakdown of coal, but have failed because of the complexity involved in making a community of microbes work together.

However, ARCTECH has succeeded in getting the microbes to convert coal into methane gas, as well as organic humic products useful for agriculture, water cleanup and waste recycling, researchers said.

Mr Dhurjati said that "Our computer models now make it possible to successfully design, operate and control commercial-scale processes.”

The researchers developed computer models, known technically as a "lumped kinetic mathematical model" and a "reaction connectivity model," describing each biochemical reaction as the termite microbial community transforms coal into cleaner fuel.

The microbes a mix of bacteria, protists and fungi first convert the coal into large polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are further degraded into mid-chain fatty acids, next into organic acids, finally producing methane.

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Posted By : Rabi Wangkhem on Mon, 14 Jan 2019
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