Subsurface Microbial Hydrogen Cycling: Natural Occurrence and Implications for Industry

Microorganisms. 2019 Feb 15;7(2):53. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms7020053.


Hydrogen is a key energy source for subsurface microbial processes, particularly in subsurface environments with limited alternative electron donors, and environments that are not well connected to the surface. In addition to consumption of hydrogen, microbial processes such as fermentation and nitrogen fixation produce hydrogen. Hydrogen is also produced by a number of abiotic processes including radiolysis, serpentinization, graphitization, and cataclasis of silicate minerals. Both biotic and abiotically generated hydrogen may become available for consumption by microorganisms, but biotic production and consumption are usually tightly coupled. Understanding the microbiology of hydrogen cycling is relevant to subsurface engineered environments where hydrogen-cycling microorganisms are implicated in gas consumption and production and corrosion in a number of industries including carbon capture and storage, energy gas storage, and radioactive waste disposal. The same hydrogen-cycling microorganisms and processes are important in natural sites with elevated hydrogen and can provide insights into early life on Earth and life on other planets. This review draws together what is known about microbiology in natural environments with elevated hydrogen, and highlights where similar microbial populations could be of relevance to subsurface industry.

Keywords: corrosion; gas storage; hydrogen; hydrogenotrophy.

Publication types

  • Review