Not every country has natural gas fields, so in order to reduce dependence on other countries, a German scientific team wants to meet its own needs with "self-made" natural gas.
This method is a bit like home-brewed beer. Breweries use live yeast to convert sugar and starch into beer. European energy companies want to use archaea as catalysts to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen into methane (the main component of natural gas). The carbon dioxide emitted by a coal-fired power plant or factory can be converted into a more useful fuel on the one hand, and, on the other hand. the greenhouse gas can be prevented from escaping into the atmosphere.
Methanogenic archaea are single-celled microorganisms that have inhabited the Earth for billions of years in some of the most inhospitable and rough places in the world including deep underground gas reservoirs, volcanic hot springs, salt lakes or various hypoxic and high-pressure environments. The archaea used by the team have been transformed by a University of Chicago team for industrial application.
The staple food of these microorganisms is industrial waste and hydrogen. After convert into methane, energy companies can directly inject methane gas into the original natural gas pipelines, infrastructure to reach factories, or store it underground in the future. Patent-holding chemist Alexander Krajete stated, 4 billion-year-old archaea are the oldest known metabolic ancestors and survivors of nature.
With European gas prices hitting record highs and geopolitical tensions with Russia in recent years, green alternatives have also come into focus. Doris Hafenbradl, managing director of German company Electrochaea GmbH stated, “We do not want to use fossil fuels from abroad but, instead, switch to this regenerative and low-carbon gas.”
However, the journey is long and billions of euros of additional investment are still needed for this project to become commercially competitive. Electrochaea has raised €36 million so far and closed its fifth round of funding in January with investors including Baker Hughes and Engie SA. Hafenbradl said Electrochaea has established demonstration plants in Denmark, Hungary and Switzerland that are expected to produce hundreds of MWh of green gas in five years' time.