Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 29th Jul 2007

Chemistry World - Clean Coal and Anti-Nerve Gas Goats

Mark Peplow, Royal Society of Chemistry

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Mark - A group of scientists in china have been developing a way of getting energy from coal without having to dig it out of the ground. It uses the same technology as the Victorians did to make gas for their gas lamps. In this chinese pilot trial they have drilled into a coal seam first pumped air down ignited the coal and then pumped down steam. At the other end of the seam there is another pipe and through this pipe comes something called syn gas a mixture of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This is half burned coal and can be turned into a variety of liquid fuels using a process called the Fischer Tropf process.

Chris - So you don't have to dig a vast hole in the ground, you can get energy out whenever you want it,

Mark - When they first tried this in the 1970s was to send miners down and essentially create a reaction vessel inside the coal seam. With this method they carefully control the heat and air and burrow their own pipe through the coal seam which is about half a metre wide which completely removes the need for anyone to go down there. With 5000 miners a year dieing in coal mining accidents this will clearly make a big difference?

Chris - How do you make sure the gas comes out in the right place?

Mark - This is about how some coal seams are layed down, they are surrounded by rocks which trap the gasses and only let it escape where you have drilled the hole.

Chris - So what is this I hear about goats and chemical weapons?

Mark -   A research company called Pharmathene based in Canada have genetically modified a herd of goats to produce a protective enzyme in their milk. This is an enzyme that can chew up organo-phosporous compounds such as Sarin which was used in the Tokyo underground attack in 1995. This enzyme is called Butyralcolinesterase and out of that herd of goats they can produce about 5g of this enzyme in every litre of milk. They have already stockpiled about 15kg of this enzyme.

Chris - So you extract this enzyme out of the milk and then inject it into someone who has been exposed to something nasty.

Mark - Yes we talked to a researcher called Patrick Massam in France at the military health service research centre, he told us that a dose of about 200mg of the enzyme can protect humans up to about 5 times the lethal does of something like VX or sarin.

Chris - Or even sheep dip? As organophosphates are implicated in farmers having problems with sheepdip and gulf war syndrome.

Mark - Yes that's right they kill the insects which kill the insect which cause problems in sheep, but they have also been implicated in something called sheep dipper's flu due to an accumulation of these organophosphates in the farmer's bodies when they have not been using proper protective equipment.

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