Scientists Receive Patent For Coal-Cleaning Bacteria

Compiled By Glenn Hasek Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y., have received a patent for bacteria that can turn coal into a cleaner fuel for use in power plants. Burning coal currently creates a host of problems, including the release of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, and leftover ash containing toxic metals. The new bacteria strains, which include newly evolved members of the species Leptospirillum ferrooxidans and Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, digest coal and break it down into simpler molecules. The process removes sulfur and heavy-metal contaminants. The resulting cleaner coal can be burned or converted to liquid or gaseous fuel much more efficiently than untreated coal, while producing fewer environmentally undesirable by-products. "The best results can be achieved by using a combination of the newly adapted organisms, wherein each is very efficient at degrading one or more of the desired sites within the complex structure of coal," says chemist Mow Lin, who -- with retired chemist Eugene Premuzic -- was recently awarded U.S. Patent No. 6,294,351 for the work.

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