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Underground Methane Farm

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I often think about [ldischler]'s scheme to fake the shroud of turin using ancient carbon (linked). In short, plants and animals incorporate atmospheric CO2 into their tissues, and this has a mix of C12 and C14. Over time the C14 degenerates, and the ratio of C12 and C14 can be used to determine how long it has been since the carbon in an object (eg the Shroud) has been in equilibrium with the atmosphere. By making sure that a growing plant has access only to pure C12 containing CO2 (such that that obtained by burning coal or other ancient carbon), the plant will appear to be very old when C14 dated.

Consider that this same fakeout may be in effect when carbon dating natural gas. It is assumed to be very old. However, it may not be so old, but be the result of bacterial metabolism of very old carbon. For example, imagine a bed on ancient carbonate rocks. Methanogen bacteria metabolize these carbonates and generate methane. The C14 composition of the methane reflects the age of the carbonate, and so the methane seems old even though it has been generated over the past thousand years.

If this is true, it offers the possibility of regenerating natural gas sources. The proposed experiment:

1: Locate an natural gas source, preferably one that has nearly been tapped dry. C14 date the gas to confirm it appears ancient.

2: Sequester atmospheric CO2 in this now empty gas reservoir. No oxygen should go in because methanogens hate it. It might be good to include some nitrate since bacteria like that.

3: Wait a while.

4: Tap the gas. Is there methane? C14 date it. Is it young? If so, then there are live beds of methanogens associated with gas deposits. CO2 should be sequestered there, because it will someday be available again in burnable form.

It may be faster to do this in a clathrate bed: bacterial metabolism is probably faster in a wet environment.

bungston, Sep 13 2006

Faking the Shroud of Turin Faking_20the_20Shro...20with_20Hamburgers
Nifty C14 tricks. [bungston, Sep 13 2006]

Methanogen metabolism http://microbewiki....dex.php/Methanogens
[bungston, Sep 14 2006]


       sp: C12.
Texticle, Sep 13 2006

       /sp: C12./ Thanks. Corrected.
bungston, Sep 13 2006

       I'm fairly sure methanogens need reduced carbon, such as that in carbohydrates or hydrocarbons, and are unable to use the carbon in CO2.
spidermother, Sep 14 2006

       [Spider] - methane is reduced carbon. The methanogens live in a reducing environment where it is energetically favorable to reduce oxidized carbon - the reverse of us topsiders. See linked.
bungston, Sep 14 2006

       From Wikipedia: //Some, called hydrotropic, use carbon dioxide as a source of carbon and hydrogen as a source of energy (hydrogen functions as a reducing agent). Some of the carbon dioxide is reacted with the hydrogen to produce methane//. You're right. Thanks for the onfo. You still might need to bung a bit of extra hydrogen in there too, though.
spidermother, Sep 14 2006

       Sounds good enough for government work and CO2 sequestration is always a good thing...   

       But as I understand it, most subterraean bacteria take a very long time to do anything. I suppose that might be due to the obvious fallibility of carbon dating materials that have been separated from the surface though.   

       Have you had a look at The Deep Hot Biosphere by Thomas J. Gould? quite an interesting read, although I'd hate for too many people to get their hands on it, and take it as a call to keep burning fossil fuels at the rate we do now.
ye_river_xiv, Sep 14 2006

       That author is Thomas Gold, an Austrian astrophysicist, not Thomas J Gould, the assistant professor of psychology at Temple University. (Maybe a bit of Steven Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist and author of "The Mismeasure of Man", slipped in there as well.)
jutta, Sep 14 2006

       [xiv], my renewed interest in carbon sequestration has me again pondering the frustrating slowness of subterranean bacteria. Sure, give them the whole Devonian and they will produce some nifty coal beds, but I want it now!   

       Why are they slow? Why is anything slow? Cold, lame, lazy, hungry, or tired. We can rule out everything but hungry. I bet they are hungry. Hungry for nitrogen compounds, just like all life.   

       We have got all kinds of nitrogen compounds topside. I bet a little urea would really charge up those subterranean critters. You could sluice the waste from a hog farming operation in with your sequestered carbon.   

       The critters would probably do better with some oxidized carbon besides CO2, and probably not plastic, either - maybe formic acid from my other idea.   

       Maybe the difference between oil and gas deposits is nitrogen availability? Currently, water is used to pump into oil beds to float up the oil and get at it. You could dope the water with fertilizer. Then return to the oil bed after a few decades. Is there more oil?   

       A problem with me is that I know very little about petro-geology. For example, I may have made up that word. If the hypothesis here is true, one would predict that gas and oil beds would occur either with coal or with carbonate rocks: food for the bugs. If oil is routinely found in granitic or basaltic formations, then this idea has problems.
bungston, Feb 15 2007

       I am thinking about this one again. The idea of revivifying spent oil and gas fields with fertilizer appeals to me. One could do this by injecting the fertilizer, waiting, and seeing if the beds regenerate. That experiment might take many lifetimes, and the funding will run out.   

       Another alternative would be to watch the isotopic output of a currently productive oil field and see if you can alter it on the fly. I like oilfields for this because oil floats, but archons live in aquaeous environments, so stuff added in water solution will find the bugs, if they are down there. Also, water is already routinely added to oil fields to lift remaining oil and make it accessible.   

       With the water, add oxidized carbon substrate of unusual isotopic combination. One could make all C14 CO2 and dissolve it, or make all C14 carbonates, pulverize them to maximize surface area, and send them in with the water. The carbonates have the advantage in that you could dope the particles with nitrogenous fertilizer, so the increased growth of putative carbonate metabolizers would be most likely in the vicinity of your labeled carbon source.   

       Then, watch the isotopic composition of your oil. It should have no C14 initially. If your added C14 starts showing up in the form of alkanes, then you have proven that there is carbonate metabolism and oil generation going on in the current age.   

       I really need to read Deep Hot Earth.
bungston, Jul 27 2007

       The problem with the idea of injecting CO2 alone into a used methane reservoir is that even if there are methane making bacteria down there, there probably won't be a reasonable supply of H2 for them them to metabolize the C02 into methane.
goldbb, Jul 28 2009

       Seems like it would be easier to just collect methane hydrates from the sea floor.
travbm, Oct 29 2015


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