Chinese scientists have found a new microbe that can directly digest crude oil and produce methane, paving the way for exploitation of depleted oil fields, the China Science Daily reported Thursday.
The research, published on Thursday in the journal Nature, focused on a new member of methanogenic archaebacteria family, Ca. Methanoliparum, which can directly turn long-chain alkanes in crude oil into methane in oxygen-free environment.
Methanogenic archaebacteria are a group of the earliest microorganisms on earth and play a key role in biogas fermentation. Previous studies found that the fermentation needs both hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria and methanogenic archaebacteria to complete the organic degradation and methane production.
The research team from the Biogas Institute of China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs found Ca. Methanoliparum in an oil reservoir. It can directly oxidate long-chain alkanes and produce methane without hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria.
In traditional recovery process, the crude oil deep underground is driven by the pressure of water or chemicals. More than half of the deposits are difficult to recover and stay underground.
Based on this research, the crude oil could be degraded into methane before the mixed recovery of oil and gas with higher recovery efficiency. The depleted oil field could also extend its exploitation life.
The institute carried out the research with Shenzhen University, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology of Germany, and SINOPEC Key Laboratory of Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery.