Hong Kong Investor Backs Ciris’s Microbial Coal-to-Gas Process

Ciris Energy Inc., a closely held U.S. company that uses naturally occurring microbes to convert coal to natural gas, received about $25 million from a Hong Kong-based investor to fund projects and expand internationally.

The undisclosed investor is providing $15 million in project financing and $10 million as equity in the company, Chief Executive Officer Jay Short said in an interview today. The capital will be used to expand into new sites in the U.S. and other countries, with a focus on Asia, Short said.

The investment follows $12 million Ciris received in March 2012, a deal led by ConocoPhillips (COP), Short said. That financing round also included returning investors Braemar Energy Ventures, Rho Ventures LLC, Khosla Ventures and Energy Technology Ventures, a partnership between NRG Energy Inc. (NRG), General Electric Co. (GE) and ConocoPhillips.

The latest financing was a very “late-stage venture round,” Short said. “This is the last, what you would call, VC-type round.” Short declined to say where Ciris is considering expanding into Asia.

The company’s technology relies on microorganisms that already exist underground, which are stimulated to consume coal and emit methane. The process may enable extraction of natural gas in more areas and others previously thought to be tapped out, Short said.

“We can go into a coal-bed methane field that is no longer producing gas and add nutrients to it and get on the order of 10 to 20 times more gas than the field ever had in the first place,” Short said.

Gas that’s extracted from coal seams with conventional methods is also generated by microbes. Ciris’s technology accelerates that natural process, Short said.

“It takes months for this to work, which is pretty good when you consider that the original gas took thousands of years to make, if not longer,” Short said.

The company is collecting data from its first major project, a 160-acre site in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, Short said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Herndon in San Francisco at aherndon2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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