Will help prevent global destruction for real by trapping underground a greenhouse gas
In H.G. Wells’ classic science-fiction novel, The War of the Worlds, bacteria save Earth from destruction when the Martian invaders succumb to infections to which humans have become immune through centuries of evolution. If a team led by researchers at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Control of Geologic CO2 (NCGC) has its way, bacteria — with a little assist from science — will help prevent global destruction for real by trapping underground a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2 ), that threatens Earth’s climate.
The team will discuss its work at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society (BPS) in San Diego, Calif., held Feb. 25-29.
Among the methods being considered for removing excess CO2 (from sources such as power stations) from the atmosphere is transporting the gas into porous rock deep underground. There, it can mineralize with cations (positively charged atoms) to form solid carbonate minerals and become permanently trapped. This mineralization process, however, is extremely slow, sometimes taking hundreds to thousands of years.
Bacteria, the researchers predicted, might help speed things up.
“Previous studies have shown that underground bacteria remain in the rock after CO2 injection. We know these microbes can impact how minerals form, leading us to wonder if they also affect the rate of mineralization,” says NCGC biochemist Jenny Cappuccio. “And if bacteria could enhance the nucleation of carbonate minerals, then perhaps we could fine-tune that ability in the laboratory.”
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