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The setting would be on Titan in the 2200s. Because the institute preventing intrusions on new worlds that have possible organisms has very little money, they scan Titan on the surface, they don't see any metazoa, and they open it up to the highest bidder. An industry has recently bought the entirety of Titan because they wanted a monopoly on methane, which Titan has a large amount of. By the way, Earth is running short of natural gas on its own.

They find methane-based, phosphonitrile-based unicellular organisms. These organisms vary, but all of them are one-celled. However, the cells convert acetylene and hydrogen to methane, and the company needs methane to process into "natural gas". Most of the organisms are of one species, and that species reproduces around once every 8.5 days. The surrounding lakes contain several dozen million cubic meters of methane. The planetary solar system has been explored, but not the Oort Cloud. FTL travel has not been discovered, and it is doubtful whether FTL travel will exist at any point in the future. There has never been any definite proof of extraterrestrial life before this.

Once the corporation finds the organisms, what would pros and cons be if the company did these?

Methods of retrieval of methane:

  • Builds bioreactors to heat the methane to 112 K (boiling point of methane) to metabolize the reaction nearly a magnitude faster?
  • Or just pumped the thalassogen from the natural lakes on Titan?

Methods of waste removal:

  • Pumped waste material a couple of hundred feet below the ground?
  • Or dumped the waste material on the surface, hundreds of meters away from the pumping stations?

To be clear:

  • The methane is part of Titan's ecology and the industry is building on Titan to harness the methane.
  • The company's plans are to sell the methane off to the local Saturnian system for it to be cost-effective. Everywhere else it would be too expensive to ship there.
  • Titanian life has not been found before the current time by anyone else.
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closed as primarily opinion-based by anon, RonJohn, Ryan_L, Renan, dot_Sp0T Sep 2 '18 at 8:41

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ You are asking us to assume the technology, biology and intentions of your world which is generally against the rules. Perhaps refine your question to asking what can methane be used for in space, or something a little more concise. $\endgroup$ – anon Sep 1 '18 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ I found an answer to that question. Fixed it now. $\endgroup$ – Pyrania Sep 1 '18 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ I love microbes but I struggle with the economics of bringing methane to Earth from Titan. $\endgroup$ – Willk Sep 2 '18 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ In any case, methane is pretty abundant elsewhere; in Uranus and Neptune's atmospheres, on plenty of other icy moons and bodies. You can probably mine a few billion kg of methane out of Saturn's rings, which seems easier than a microbe-based process on Titan's surface. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 2 '18 at 1:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk I made the question clearer. The methane is already on Titan, and the idea is to build and sell the methane to the local Saturnian system. Everywhere else would be too expensive. $\endgroup$ – Pyrania Sep 2 '18 at 1:25
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Infrastructure costs money

Instead of having to build custom ponds and all the machinery associated with that it is much cheaper to use what you have. If these organisms live in these ponds then it is cheaper to just convert these ponds into bioreactors.

Now this practice is frowned upon on Earth because of the enormous ecological implications it can have. However, since the corporation owns this world that might not be an issue as far as they are concerned.

Another barrier to doing this is that generally industrial processes like to ensure the integrity of the process. That means being able to say that no other compounds or biologics are interfering with the production of your intended product. At present this isn't so much an issue in your described world because you have not mentioned the presence of other organisms or chemical factors that would affect this organism. If there are then the corporation would like build the facilities needed to isolate these creatures from outside influences.

There is also the government aspect.

The government thought the planet was sterile so the discovery of an organism could jeopardize the corporation's claim. To prevent this the corporation could build the full facility and just dump waste locally to claim that they engineered the organism and just let it loose on the planet.

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  • $\begingroup$ The plot of the story was going to include people working undercover to try to prove the existence of the alien microbes. $\endgroup$ – Pyrania Sep 1 '18 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ If they build lots of factories and dump waste locally it would be difficult to prove that the microbe was native. However, if the inspectors find the microbe in remote places (away from the reaches of any plants) or buried deep in the geological record then they could prove that the microbe was native. $\endgroup$ – anon Sep 1 '18 at 21:50
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Probably the company would hire an analyst to calculate the cost effectiveness of using bioreactors on earth. The only reason they would bother is if taking these organisms to earth and making methane there is going to be more cost effective than shipping methane from titan to earth.

There are plenty of examples on earth of companies clear cutting forests that could have been sustainably harvested for years in the future just to boost their short term profit. Unless bioreactors are far my profitable in a ten year time period, most likely they'll just use the methane from titan.

On a side note, is it really okay for them to use hydrocarbons back on earth? Did someone solve the greenhouse effect already?

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  • $\begingroup$ Mainly there are methane rocketry used in space, not on Earth. $\endgroup$ – Pyrania Sep 1 '18 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Pyrania In that case, the company will probably focus most of its attention on using the current methane pools, and have the refuel station right on titan or nearby. R&D will get to see these organisms become a part of their research block, but so long as theres enough methane to meet demand they won't try to mess around with bioreactors and the like. $\endgroup$ – Clay Deitas Sep 1 '18 at 22:03
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They won't be mining anything.

The fact of extra terrestrial life will get out, and government will take over. Hopefully the industry gets recompensed.

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