Bacteria Discovered Deep Underground Can Turn CO2 into Crystals


Deep beneath South Dakota’s Black Hills, scientists have discovered a unique bacterium with the potential to transform carbon dioxide (CO2) into solid minerals.

This breakthrough could offer a new way to capture greenhouse gases by injecting these microbes into abandoned fossil fuel reservoirs.

Researchers from Soeder Geoscience LLC and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology recently embarked on a quest to find microbes capable of surviving the extreme conditions found deep underground in oilfields.

They discovered three promising bacteria species:

  • Bacillus Species: Found 1,250 meters (4,100 feet) below ground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota, this species was located in the deepest underground laboratory in the United States.
  • Geobacillus Species: Another bacterium adapted to high heat and pressure, showcasing its resilience in such harsh environments.
  • Persephonella Marina: This hyperthermophile, typically found living in the hydrothermal vents of the Pacific Ocean, can tolerate temperatures up to 110°C (230°F), seawater salinity, and high pressure.

How They Work

These bacteria have the remarkable ability to convert CO2 into calcite crystals under extreme conditions.

The transformation is facilitated by an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase, which catalyzes the reaction between CO2 and water.

In lab experiments, the researchers found that the ideal conditions for this transformation were 500 times the pressure at sea level and a temperature of 80°C (178°F).

Under these extreme conditions, the bacteria can convert CO2 to carbonate crystals within just 10 days.

One of the extremophilic species was a Bacillus species.

Potential Applications

The voids left by depleted oil and gas fields present an ideal opportunity for storing captured CO2, thereby preventing it from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

These bacteria could be injected into these underground spaces, where they would sequester the CO2 permanently.

Additionally, the solid carbonates formed by this process could effectively act as a “plug,” preventing any residual liquids and gases from leaking out of the abandoned wells.

Future Prospects

While this research is still in its early stages, advancements in carbon capture technology like this could be crucial in addressing the climate crisis.

However, it’s important to remember that capturing carbon is only part of the solution.

There remains a critical need to reduce fossil fuel consumption to combat climate change effectively.

The researchers caution that while this bacterial solution is promising, it should complement broader efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than replace them.

The successful application of these bacteria could significantly enhance current carbon capture strategies, making them more efficient and sustainable.

This exciting research was presented at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco late last year.

The findings highlight a potential new avenue for carbon sequestration, leveraging natural biological processes to address one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.