‘Magic’ crystals and microbes – making the most of biogas wells

Magic crystal (red) with microbes (green)“Magic” crystals discovered by Sydney researchers have generated a sustainable and cost effective option for the revival and enhancement of methane production in non-gassy coal seams.

Flexible synthetic phenazine-crystals, nicknamed “magic” crystals, will the boost the life span of a coal seam gas well which can be as short as 5-20 years.

“These crystals are able to catalyse energy from a variety of resources – including coal, oil and even food waste – in favour of gas producing microbes to produce biogas,” explains Dr Sabrina Beckmann, a post-doctoral researcher at UNSW.

“The crystals soak the energy out of the coal, by removing the electrons, and deliver them exclusively to a specific type of microbe that can convert this energy to biogas.”

Field trials have demonstrated that these crystals are able to extend the life of the gas wells for at least 2 years, after which they degrade and can be re-added to further extend the life of the well.

As global energy needs rise, the need to make the most of the resources that we have is increasingly important. Drilling new gas wells is controversial as they can reduce the value of agricultural land and natural habitats, so anything we can do to get the most out of these wells is beneficial.

Sabrina presented her research at Fresh Science New South Wales 2015.

Fresh Science is a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery. Over 50 early-career researchers nominated for Fresh Science NSW, which was held at the Australian Museum (training) and Three Wise Monkeys Hotel (public challenge event).

Fresh Science New South Wales was supported by the Australian Museum and the University of New South Wales.

Contact: Sabrina Beckmann, University of New South Wales, s.beckmann@unsw.edu.au

Sabrina presenting at Fresh Science pub event

Bright spark: Sabrina presenting at Fresh Science pub event

Magic crystal

Magic crystal

Magic crystal (red) with microbes (green)

Magic crystal (red) with microbes (green)

Figure 4 c

Magic crystal (red) with microbes (green)

Magic crystal (red) with microbes (green)

Sabrina and colleague out in the field

Sabrina and colleague out in the field

Sabrina (second from right) and colleagues

Sabrina (second from right) and colleagues

Food waste that could be turned into fuel using "magic" crystals

Food waste that could be turned into fuel using “magic” crystals

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