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The world runs on generated power. However, as demonstrated by the recent global energy crises, the energy supply can be fragile and open to disruption on a national scale. Energy security is one of the key factors that governments plan for daily. This article will discuss how microbes play a part in bolstering energy security.

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Why is energy security important?

Energy security is a critical factor in keeping modern economies going. Everything runs on power: transportation, hospitals, critical road infrastructure, domestic appliances, the Internet, and many more things that keep society intact and functioning. Uninterrupted efficiently generated, and affordable energy is essential to provide the benefits of modern industrialized society for a country’s population. If the energy supply is interrupted, the lights can quite literally go off.

There are many aspects to energy security. Short-term energy security is concerned with the robustness of the energy grid and its ability to respond to sudden changes in supply and demand promptly. Long-term energy security is concerned with the timely investments in energy supply by governments in line with environmental needs and economic development.

Many countries use a mix of energy, buy cheap karela uk without prescription including fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables. However, despite a global shift towards renewables, oil is still a large part of the energy mix of most nations, at least for now. Oil (and its derivatives) is used for energy, critical infrastructure, industry, and transportation. Coal is rapidly being phased out and replaced with other sources, most notably natural gas. The recent global crisis in natural gas supply demonstrates just how fragile our energy supply really is.

The role of microbiology in the energy sector

Microbiology has become a vital technology for human progress in the 21st century. Aside from its obvious and notable applications in the biomedical sector, microbiology is playing an increasing role in the energy sector. It is already important for upstream and downstream activities in the oil industry. Important microbially mediated processes in the industry include reservoir scouring and control, microbial enhanced oil recovery, and reservoir biodegradation.

The Use of Microbes in Biofuel Production

Even though these processes are widely known, they are poorly understood. Even less understood is the role of microbiology in other commercially important processes like shale gas extraction (fracking) and carbon capture. The potential for innovative microbial technologies in the energy sector is promising.

Currently, there are several roadblocks to future research and innovation in the field. Recent low oil prices do not provide a financial incentive for companies, and there are conflicts of interest at the governmental level as well as a protracted implementation of policies that will help combat climate change. For microbiology to continue to play a role in the energy sector in the future, the potential benefits must be driven home to companies and governments alike.

Global energy futures

Despite global attention, oil is likely to play a central role in global energy mixes, at least in the medium term. It is predicted to still comprise 75% of total energy sources by 2030, and the global population is growing.

Global energy usage is estimated to grow to 200 million GWh by 2030, according to the IEA. Renewables will dominate in the long term, but this means that technologies which make the most of dwindling resources and maximize recovery will be necessary whilst also limiting rising temperatures.

How can microbes play a role in energy security?

Ensuring global energy security whilst minimizing our impact upon the environment is a pressing challenge for humanity in the 21st century. By doing so, we will curtail the worst impacts of climate change whilst eradicating energy poverty and tackling the demands of a growing population that is predicted to reach around 10 billion by 2050. Innovative technologies that maximize resource management will be vital in this new era.

Microbiology can play a vital role in ensuring energy security and combatting climate change. Microbiology already impacts fossil fuel exploration and production, and the discipline is likely to become even more important as we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Microbial technologies could present a road to reduced emissions and improved efficiency of resource exploitation and management. As conventional resources dwindle, we are likely to become more dependent on unconventional sources such as shale oil, shale gas, and even methane hydrates. Microbiology can provide solutions that facilitate resource recovery whilst reducing the carbon footprint of these systems. Thus, microbiological techniques can have a positive impact on energy security.

Some key technologies

One particularly interesting concept that has been around for about a century is microbially enhanced oil recovery (MEOR.) This involves changing reservoir properties by manipulating microbial populations.

For example, it can reduce permeability and interfacial tension. It can also lead to selective plugging. However, despite its long history, MEOR has not been widely used by the oil industry. This is in part due to difficulty in attributing increases in oil production to the process.

Aside from better management of fossil fuel reserves, the need to move away from non-renewable sources of energy is needed. Biofuels present a solution to this issue, and microbiology has been intimately involved in the biofuel industry since its beginnings. Some renewable bio-energy solutions include biodiesel, bioethanol, biobutanol, and methanol.

Other, cleaner renewable technologies will also be needed to provide energy security whilst reducing emissions. This will require a mixture of technologies including hydrogen fuel cells and electric vehicles. Microbiology is also playing a key role in the development of these technologies. Two examples are using photosynthetic microbes to produce hydrogen and microbial fuel cells that generate their own security. Microbial fuel cells have also been explored for solar power generation.

The future

We live in a world beset by growing climate catastrophes and ever-more-fragile energy supplies. The end of oil is coming within the next generation, so industry and governments must step up to the plate to ensure the supply of sustainable, clean, secure energy in the coming decades. Microbiology will continue to play a growing role in the energy sector, providing innovative research that will benefit the entire industry and the continued viability of our modern industrialized society.

References:

  • International Energy Agency (2019) Multiple Benefits or Energy Efficiency Report extract: Energy Security iea.org (Accessed online 18th October 2021) https://www.iea.org/reports/multiple-benefits-of-energy-efficiency/energy-security
  • Head, I.M. & Gray, N.D. (2016) Microbial Biotechnology 2020; microbiology of fossil fuel resources Microb Biotechnol. 9(5) pp. 626-634 (Accessed online 18th October 2021) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4993181/
  • Strik, D.P.B.T.B et al. (2010) Solar Energy Powered Microbial Fuel Cells with a Reversible Bioelectrode Environ. Sci. Technol. 44(1) pp. 532-537 (Accessed online 18th October 2021) https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es902435v
  • Demain. A.L. (2009) Biosolutions to the energy problem Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology 36(3) pp. 319-332 (Accessed online 18th October 2021) https://academic.oup.com/jimb/article/36/3/319/5993668

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Last Updated: Nov 23, 2021

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for News Medical represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.

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