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BIO Pacific Rim Summit: Biofuels from Coal and Sunlight

November 11, 2009
On day two of BIO's Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy, attendees heard some fascinating presentations at the plenary lunch session, appropriately titled "Novel Applications of Industrial Biotechnology."

Phil Hendry from CSIRO in Australia spoke about the opportunities for carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas benefits offered by coal bed methane production (coal seam gas, CBM, CSG). Coal bed methane is a type of natural gas extracted from coal beds through a natural biological process. There are great advantages to its use, according to Mr. Hendry, because coal bed methane produces around 50 percent less carbon dioxide emissions compared to coal-fired power. Coal bed methane also has great potential to contribute significantly to the supply of natural gas.

There are several international organizations involved in the production of coal bed methane, aside from CSIRO. Luca Technologies, Alberta Research Council, and the Western Research Institute are some examples. Mr. Hendry also cited the ability of CBM to stimulate under saturated coal seams, exhausted wells, and even to be injected into micronutrients.

Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President of the Industrial and Environmental Section at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), sits on the board of the Western Research Institute. When asked about the potential for coal bed methane, he made the following statement: “Biogenic coal bed methane generation is an elegant solution requiring the marriage of fossil fuel technology and advanced biotechnology. The potential of this energy generating process has yet to be fully realized. And when it is, it will allow us to tap into a clean, natural gas resource from deep coal beds that has been heretofore difficult to obtain.”

Also presenting at the lunch session was David Berry, a co-founder of Joule Biotechnologies. Joule announced yesterday that their Helioculture technology has achieved a breakthrough in converting CO2 and sunlight into diesel. Joule had previously announced production of ethanol.

Berry described the SolarConverter Joule is developing -- a modular system of panels housing photosynthetic microorganisms. Audio of the presentation is available for download from

Stephanie Batchelor of BIO contributed to this report.