Scientists have discovered the mechanism of coal formation

Researchers have discovered microorganisms that are responsible for the formation of coal and the production of methane. The discovery will help to efficiently extract methane from coal deposits. An article about the discovery was published in the journal Science.

Patrick Mansell, Penn State

Coal has been known to mankind for quite a long time, and still this mineral is used to generate energy, despite the fact that they are trying to reduce its production. But along with coal, other substances can also lie in the rock thickness, which can also be used in energy and industry. However, despite the fact that coal has been familiar to us since time immemorial, we still know very little about the initial stages of its synthesis.

Researchers in the new work studied methoxyl groups in coal samples from around the world and used stable isotopes to show that organic material eventually turns into stone under the action of microorganisms. Methoxyl groups in coal turn into methane, but researchers believe that the process of methane formation from coal is poorly understood. To better understand this process, the scientists used stable carbon isotopes in the remaining methoxyl groups.

The methoxyl group consists of a carbon atom with three hydrogen atoms attached to oxygen. An oxygen atom can attach to any place in a larger organic molecule. In our case, it attaches to a carbon atom in one of the ring compounds contained in the coal. The authors studied methoxyl groups in a variety of substances, from wood to bituminous coal.

Scientists have found that the isotope profile does not correspond to the generally accepted mechanism of methane formation from coal under the influence of heat, increased acidity or catalytic reactions. However, this profile corresponded to the scenario of the impact of microorganisms on organic material. According to the researchers, the depletion of methoxyl groups in coal over time indicates that coal itself has an organic resource in the production of methane. Thus, adding more microbes or nutrients will not lead to an increase in methane production — this will require a different approach.

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