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Just ask any dairy farmer, climate scientist, or landfill site director about methane emissions, and they will tell you they are a serious challenge to manage. Methane is about 25 times more potent than CO2 as a contributing greenhouse gas, and it’s released from natural gas extraction, decomposing garbage, and agricultural practices. In an effort to capture methane and keep it out of the atmosphere, scientists from the University of Calgary plan to test and deploy biofilters that that reduce low-methane emissions with the help of bacteria.

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Funded by Climate Change and Emissions Management (CCEMC) Corporation through its Biological Greenhouse Gas Management Program, the three-year project will use methanotroph bacteria to consume methane and convert the gas into CO2. The scientists hope that the “living” biofilters will help provide a solution for areas that produce small, but ultimately significant levels of methane. Large-scale operations are able to collect the gas for use on an industrial scale, but small quantities have been harder to manage. However, each source of emissions adds to a larger contribution to global warming, and in 2010, 640 million cubic meters of methane flared or vented from the petroleum industry in Alberta alone entered the atmosphere.

“Methane biofiltration is a clean and completely ‘green’ technology that offers a solution. The greenhouse gas benefit is that these biofilters convert methane to carbon dioxide.” says Patrick Hettiaratchi, professor of environmental engineering at Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering.

Peter Dunfield, an associate professor at Calgary’s Faculty of Science, is using DNA “fingerprinting” to establish and propagate the most effective bacteria. The bacteria will be able to take the methane down to a manageable few parts per million. Although they are still emitting CO2, the gas is far less potent than its original form, and can ultimately be sequestered. The CCEMC projects that their research could potentially reduce greenhouse gasses by 2,000 tons over the next decade.

+ Climate Change Emissions Management Corporation


Images via Wikicommons users Evelyn Simak and Ropable.