Microbial Biotechnology 2020; microbiology of fossil fuel resources

Abstract

This roadmap examines the future of microbiology research and technology in fossil fuel energy recovery. Globally, the human population will be reliant on fossil fuels for energy and chemical feedstocks for at least the medium term. Microbiology is already important in many areas relevant to both upstream and downstream activities in the oil industry. However, the discipline has struggled for recognition in a world dominated by geophysicists and engineers despite widely known but still poorly understood microbially mediated processes e.g. reservoir biodegradation, reservoir souring and control, microbial enhanced oil recovery. The role of microbiology is even less understood in developing industries such as shale gas recovery by fracking or carbon capture by geological storage. In the future, innovative biotechnologies may offer new routes to reduced emissions pathways especially when applied to the vast unconventional heavy oil resources formed, paradoxically, from microbial activities in the geological past. However, despite this potential, recent low oil prices may make industry funding hard to come by and recruitment of microbiologists by the oil and gas industry may not be a high priority. With regards to public funded research and the imperative for cheap secure energy for economic growth in a growing world population, there are signs of inherent conflicts between policies aimed at a low carbon future using renewable technologies and policies which encourage technologies which maximize recovery from our conventional and unconventional fossil fuel assets.

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