PloS one

An Effective Method to Detect Volatile Intermediates Generated in the Bioconversion of Coal to Methane by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry after In-Situ Extraction Using Headspace Solid-Phase Micro-Extraction under Strict Anaerobic Conditions.

PMID 27695055


Bioconversion of coal to methane has gained increased attention in recent decades because of its economic and environmental advantages. However, the mechanism of this process is difficult to study in depth, partly because of difficulties associated with the analysis of intermediates generated in coal bioconversion. In this investigation, we report on an effective method to analyze volatile intermediates generated in the bioconversion of coal under strict anaerobic conditions. We conduct in-situ extraction of intermediates using headspace solid-phase micro-extraction followed by detection by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Bioconversion simulation equipment was modified and combined with a solid-phase micro-extraction device. In-situ extraction could be achieved by using the combined units, to avoid a breakdown in anaerobic conditions and to maintain the experiment continuity. More than 30 intermediates were identified qualitatively in the conversion process, and the variation in trends of some typical intermediates has been discussed. Volatile organic acids (C2-C7) were chosen for a quantitative study of the intermediates because of their importance during coal bioconversion to methane. Fiber coating, extraction time, and solution acidity were optimized in the solid-phase micro-extraction procedure. The pressure was enhanced during the bioconversion process to investigate the influence of headspace pressure on analyte extraction. The detection limits of the method ranged from 0.0006 to 0.02 mmol/L for the volatile organic acids and the relative standard deviations were between 4.6% and 11.5%. The volatile organic acids (C2-C7) generated in the bioconversion process were 0.01-1.15 mmol/L with a recovery range from 80% to 105%. The developed method is useful for further in-depth research on the bioconversion of coal to methane.