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Metagenomics for Greener Production and Extraction of Hydrocarbon Energy: Creating Opportunities for Enhanced Recovery with Reduced Environmental Impact

Status: 
Past
Competition: 
Competition in Applied Genomics Research in Bioproducts or Crops (ABC)
Sector: 
Energy
Genome Centre(s):
Genome Alberta
Project Leader(s):
Gerrit Voordouw (University of Calgary)
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
2008-2009
Project Description: 

Canada recognizes the necessity to transition global energy production towards renewable resources. But until the technologies exist to make it economically feasible to do so, Canada’s oil, gas and coal must be extracted in the most environmentally friendly way possible. This project is designed to minimize the environmental impact of oil sands production, by decreasing its use of water and emission of greenhouse gases and by enhancing the extraction of clean burning gas from coal beds. We will develop a database to describe and harness the genetic potential of the microorganisms, genes and biological processes that exist naturally in microbial communities in our oil sands and coal beds. By identifying the genes, bioprocesses and bacteria in the old sands and coal beds, we will improve our understanding of how methane in hydrocarbon resources is generated and identify the enzymes involved in the natural cracking of hydrocarbons that produce methane and carbon dioxide.

We will use these organic bioprocesses to decrease the water used and land lost in mining operations and manage the methane emissions from tailings ponds. The publicly accessible knowledge generated by this project will also help other researchers harness the power of the processes present in Canada’s deep biosphere to resolve other important research questions. In addition to the database, this project will also create publicly accessible genetic and microbial tools that scientists can use to create greener energy and feedstock production. 

By designing new biotechnologies that decrease the energy and water required currently for oil sands extraction and by enhancing methane production from coal beds this project will help to ensure that both Canada and the world’s current energy requirements are met with the smallest environmental impact possible. The accomplishment of this aim will help Canada’s energy production become an environmentally sustainable enterprise.

Integrated GE3LS Research: Understanding Issues Related to Metagenomics
GE3LS Project Leader: Gregor Wolbring, University of Calgary
Summary
This metagenomics project aims to identify genes and bioprocesses of naturally occurring microorganisms in oil sands and coal beds that produce methane and carbon dioxide. New knowledge derived from this project will enhance our understanding of how to decrease use of water and emission of greenhouse gases, enhance extraction of clean burning gas from coal beds, and minimize the adverse environmental impact of oil sands production. This relatively new field of science brings with it new questions related to its potential impact on society. 

Metagenomics raises questions relating to: regulatory concerns about the definition and meaning of microbial species; potential environmental, health and safety risks; the application of the International Convention on Biological Diversity to this type of research; the effect of public perception; and current metagenomics patenting practices. 

Metagenomic studies will lead directly to the discovery of products or processes based on microbial metabolism that may be deployed in hydrocarbon rich environments. This raises further concerns of environmental health and safety and as well as questions of public reaction. The GE3LS component of this project will explore public conceptions around energy and investigate issues linked to this project in the areas of:

  1. metagenomics,
  2. water use,
  3. greenhouse gas emissions,
  4. bioremediation and
  5. manipulation of microorganisms to enhance hydrocarbon recovery.

The GE3LS team will also cover patent and regulatory issues pertinent to the project. 

We aim to provide tools to the public, policy makers, regulators, the business community and researchers that help with the understanding and the management of the GE3LS issues related to the project. This will enable them to compare emerging technologies with established ones and identify legitimate questions associated with new science.