Biogeochemistry of microbial coal-bed methane

Dariusz Strapoć, Maria Mastalerz, Katherine Dawson, Jennifer MacAlady, Amy V. Callaghan, Boris Wawrik, Courtney Turich, Matthew Ashby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

370 Scopus citations


Microbial methane accumulations have been discovered in multiple coal-bearing basins over the past two decades. Such discoveries were originally based on unique biogenic signatures in the stable isotopic composition of methane and carbon dioxide. Basins with microbial methane contain either low-maturity coals with predominantly microbial methane gas or uplifted coals containing older, thermogenic gas mixed with more recently produced microbial methane. Recent advances in genomics have allowed further evaluation of the source of microbial methane, through the use of high-throughput phylogenetic sequencing and fluorescent in situ hybridization, to describe the diversity and abundance of bacteria and methanogenic archaea in these subsurface formations. However, the anaerobic metabolism of the bacteria breaking coal down to methanogenic substrates, the likely rate-limiting step in biogenic gas production, is not fully understood. Coal molecules are more recalcitrant to biodegradation with increasing thermal maturity, and progress has been made in identifying some of the enzymes involved in the anaerobic degradation of these recalcitrant organic molecules using metagenomic studies and culture enrichments. In recent years, researchers have attempted lab and subsurface stimulation of the naturally slow process of methanogenic degradation of coal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-656
Number of pages40
JournalAnnual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
StatePublished - May 30 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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