• “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

    Albert Einstein

  Why Coal Biotechnology?

We make coal green again.

Biotechnology based on the utilization of living matter to achieve useful processes has already created highly profitable and useful pharmaceutical, food, energy and environmental products. Scientists and engineers are successfully utilizing natural microbes for specific applications.
Fermentation is the most common process for the conversion of synthetic and natural feedstocks. Large-scale energy production facilities based on converting corn into ethanol and industrial wastes into methane have been commissioned to capitalize on high gasoline prices for replacing methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and subsidies offered in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In 2004, the US produced 3.7B gallons of ethanol from corn and the energy bill mandates that production be increased to 7.5B gallons by 2012. However, because of the high growing and conversion costs, interest is gaining to create fermentation processes for converting cellulosic biomass (i.e., agricultural waste and cultivated grasses). The underlying mechanism of the Arctech fermentation process is to enable genetically engineered microbes to utilize carbon for cell multiplication, while producing enzymes for a desired chemical conversion. Carbon, under anaerobic conditions (oxygen deficient), results into alcohols and methane while under aerobic conditions (i.e., oxygen-rich), it produces carbon dioxide as the end product.

Coal is the most abundant and cost-effective fuel available today. It should be regarded as “buried biomass,” instead of being considered as fossil fuel. Geologically speaking, a fossil results when living plant and animal tissues have been replaced with mineral matter. Therefore, if coal was fossil, it should not be combustible.

According to David Pimentel, a leading Cornell University agricultural expert, “adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are required to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTU’s. Thus, 70% more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy actually in it. Every time one gallon of ethanol is produced, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs." Other findings from Pimentel include:

• “An acre of U.S. corn yields about 7,110 pounds of corn for processing into 328 gallons of ethanol. But planting, growing and harvesting that much corn requires about 140 gallons of fossil fuels and costs $347 per acre. Thus, even before corn is converted to ethanol, the feedstock costs $1.05 per gallon of ethanol.

• The energy economics get worse at the processing plants, where the grain is crushed and fermented. As many as three distillation steps are needed to separate the 8% ethanol from the 92% water. Additional treatment and energy are required to produce the 99.8% pure ethanol for mixing with gasoline.

• Ethanol from corn costs about $1.74 per gallon to produce, compared with about 95¢ to produce a gallon of gasoline. “That helps explain why fossil fuels—not ethanol—are used to produce ethanol,” Pimentel said. “The growers and processors can't afford to burn ethanol to make ethanol. US drivers couldn't afford it either, if it weren't for government subsidies to artificially lower the price.”

• Most economic analyses of corn-to-ethanol production overlook the costs of environmental damages, which Pimentel says should add another 23¢ per gallon. "Corn production in the U.S. erodes soil about 12 times faster than the soil can be reformed, and irrigating corn mines groundwater 25% faster than the natural recharge rate of ground water. The environmental system in which corn is being produced is being rapidly degraded.

• The average US automobile, traveling 10,000 miles a year on pure ethanol (not a gasoline-ethanol mix), would need about 852 gallons of the corn-based fuel. This would take 11 acres to grow, based on net ethanol production. This is the same amount of cropland required to feed seven Americans.”

Plant biomass feedstock for energy fuels will not only continue to be more costly than energy derived from coal, but it becomes even more uneconomical during declining oil and natural gas prices.

Coal, being predominately comprised of carbon, is amenable for biological conversion and is the cost-efficient alternative to ethanol. Recent scientific studies have confirmed natural biological activity in the coal seams, which generate methane formation under anaerobic conditions. In fact, today coal seams are sources of almost 10% + of methane produced in the United States. The origin of methane has been a major scientific controversy. This controversy was finally.

Resolved in mid-1990 during the deep well drilling test in non-carbon bearing rock formations in Sweden’s Siljan Ring. In this test well no methane was encountered and refuted the hypothesis that methane was chemically formed and is trapped deep within the Earth. However, there is ample evidence of methane biologically being produced wherever carbon-containing materials are available under anaerobic conditions. These include municipal landfills, rice paddies, coal waste piles, animal and human digestive systems, and animal manures. The only known approach for chemically converting carbon to methane is through partial oxidation into a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen and then catalytically rearranging this mixture of molecules into methane. The Company’s MicGAS biotechnology capitalizes on enhancement of natural processes by utilizing specifically adapted termite derived microbes and engineered systems to achieve high yields and high rates of methane production through anaerobic fermentation of coal. The Company has also embarked upon genetic characterization and genetic enhancement for increasing the methane yield and conversion rates.

The Company has proven the scientific feasibility of converting all the four ranks of coal (lignite, sub-bituminous, bituminous and anthracite) prevalent in the US. Over 1,000 anaerobic biological fermentation operations currently exist worldwide. These operations incorporate highly efficient compact anaerobic bioreactors for converting a variety of complex organic matter from industrial feedstock and municipal waste. In conjunction with strides in bioreactor designs and advances in fermentation, use of the Company’s termite-derived microbes for conversion of coals has a high possibility of creating a large scale MicGAS coal bioreactor. Recently the US Department of Energy selected termite-derived microbes for production of methane and humic acid as one of the transformational technologies.


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