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Energy

From supplying energy to impacting human health, scientists study the microbes that play a role in the Nation's energy resources.

Microbiology

Energy Sources

Browse samples of USGS research about energy and sources. For related links, see Related Links and References at the bottom of page.

Selenium nanospheres formed by Bacillus selenitireducens.

Bacterial Formation of Nano-scaled Materials from Group 15 and 16 Elements (Oremland)

Coal boring rig at dusk in Texas. Photo credit: USGS

Biogenic Methane Generation from Coal and Other Geopolymers
(Voytek, Jones)

Mono Lake looking west toward the Sierra Nevada from Paoha Island. Photo credit: Laurence G. Miller, USGS

Microbial Fuel Cells (Miller, Oremland)

TEM (thin section) of a cell grown on selenite that formed internalized Se(0)

Production of Nanomaterials of Group 15 and 16 Elements
(Oremland)



Bacterial Formation of Nano-scaled Materials from Group 15 and 16 Elements (Se, Te, and As)
Selenium nanospheres formed by Bacillus selenitireducens
Figure 1: Selenium nanospheres formed by Bacillus selenitireducens.
Nanorods of Te(0) on the surface of B. selenitireducens
Figure 2: Nanorods of Te(0) on the surface of B. selenitireducens.
Te(0)-nanogranules on the surface of Sulfurospirillum barnesii
Figure 3. Te(0)-nanogranules on the surface of Sulfurospirillum barnesii

Certain elements from Group 15 (As) and 16 (Se, Te) of the Periodic Table have intrinsic opto-electrical properties making them of commercial interest in the realm of the emerging field of nanotechnology. The ability of these elements, either in their native state [e.g., Se(0)] or as compounds [e.g., CdSe)] to convert light into electricity (and vice versa) makes them of potential use in a number of applications, including photovoltaic cells (for solar energy), as sensors in diverse industrial or military applications, or as shields to protect the eyes of workers from high energy light beams (i.e., lasers). This research grew out of the simple observation that Sulfurospirillum barnesii, Selenihalanaerobacter shriftii, and Bacillus selenitireducens when grown on selenium oxyanions as their respiratory electron acceptor all formed discrete nano-spheres of elemental selenium on the outside of their cell envelopes (Fig 1). These biologically produced nano-spheres were examined for spectral properties with potential applications in mind. They were found to have lower band-gap energies that Se(0) formed by chemical means, making them of interest in the realm of nano-photonics (Oremland et al., 2004). Our interest next turned to the element tellurium. Both S. barnesii and B. selenitireducens were able to grow by respiring Te-oxyanions, although these microbes proved very sensitive to the initial concentration applied to the media (Baesman et al., 2007). Nonetheless, nano-scaled minerals of Te(0) were copiously produced by both microbes, although their morphologies differed radically from the Te-nano-rods produced by B. selenitireducens (Fig 2) to the Te-nano-granules formed by S. barnesii (Fig 3). The Te-rosette structures have been further studied and found to be effective when suspended in an organic solvent matrix for their utility as optical limiters to protect the eyes from damage caused from accidental exposure to high-energy light sources (Liao et al., 2010). The isolation of a new species of tellurium oxyanion respirer Bacillus beveridgei from Mono Lake is the first example of an anaerobic bacterium that can grow using millimolar levels of telluride or tellurate in the medium (Baesman et al, 2009). Aside from using these elements in their native states, there is great interest in the compounds they form with either sulfide (in the case of arsenic) or with cadmium or zinc (in the case of selenium). Arsenic sulfides formed by arsenate-reducing Shewanella are photoactive (Lee et al., 2007; Jiang et al., 2009). Certain selenite-respiring bacteria, such as B. selenitireducens, can carry the reduction of the Se(IV) state through Se(0) to Se(-II) if provided with enough electron donor (Herbel et al., 2003). The disadvantage is that a considerable amount of unreacted Se(0) remains in the system along with the free selenide ions. Several microorganisms (e.g., Veillonella atypica) can directly reduce Se(IV) to Se(-II) without going through the Se(0) state (Pearce et al., 2008; 2009). Although these microbes do not carry out a dissimilatory reduction of Se-oxyanions that enables anaerobic growth, the selenide ions they produce can be easily harvested to react with added salts of cadmium or zinc, resulting in the production of nanoscaled precipitates of ZnSe and CdSe, both of fundamental interest in the realm of nano-photonics. Since all of these nano-materials can be produced by bacteria at room temperature, their synthesis can essentially eliminate the need for employing harsher means, such as high temperatures and pressures, and/or the use of dangerous chemicals (e.g., hydrazine). Hence, a “green” approach to the synthesis of these unique materials may be feasible. Indeed, a broad survey of the types and properties of nano-materials formed of Group 15 and 16 elements by diverse microorganisms is well-justified (Pearce et al., submitted). For more information go to: Microbial Biogeochemistry of Aquatic Environments

Publications:

Herbel, M.J., J.Switzer Blum, S. Borglin, and R.S. Oremland. 2003. Reduction of elemental selenium to selenide: Experiments with anoxic sediments and bacteria that respire Se-oxyanions. Geomicrobiol. J. 20: 587 - 602.

Jiang, S., J-H. Lee, M-G. Kim, N.V. Myung, J.K. Frederickson, M.J. Sadowsky, and H-G. Hur. 2009. Biogenic formation of As-S nanotubes by diverse Shewanella strains. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 75: 6896 – 6899.

Lee, J.H., M.G. Kim, B. Yoo, N.V. Myung, J. Maeng, T. Lee, A.C. Dohnalkova, J.K. Frederickson, M.J. Sadowsky, and H.G. Hur. 2007. Biogenic formation of photoactive arsenic-sulfide nanotubes by Shewanella sp. strain HN-41. Proc. Nat’l Acad, Sci. USA 104: 20410 – 20415.

Liao, K.S., J. Wang, S. Dias, J. Dewald, N.J. Alley, S. M. Baesman, R.S. Oremland and W.J. Blau, and S.A. Curran. 7 January 2010. Strong non-linear photonic responses from microbiologically synthesized tellurium nanocomposites. Chemical Physics Letters 2010: Volume 484, Issues 4-6, Pages 242-24. doi: 10.1016/j.cplett.2009.11.021 (online abstractExternal link)

Oremland, R.S., M.J. Herbel, J. Switzer Blum, S. Langley, T.J. Beveridge, T. Sutto, P.M. Ajayan, A. Ellis, and S. Curran. 2004. Structural and spectral features of selenium nanospheres formed by Se-respiring bacteria. Applied & Environmental Microbiology 70: 52 - 60. (online abstract and full textExternal link)

Pearce C.I., V.S. Coker, J.M. Charnock, R.A.D. Pattrick, J.F.W. Mosselmans, N. Law, et al.,2008. Microbial manufacture of chalcogenide-based nanoparticles via the reduction of selenite using Veillonella atypica: an in situ EXAFS study. Nanotechnol., 19, pp. 1-13.

Pearce, C.I., R.A.D. Pattrick, N. Law, J.M. Charnock, V.S. Coker,W. Fellowes, R.S. Oremland and J.R. Lloyd. 2009. Investigating different mechanisms for biogenic selenite transformations: Geobacter sulfurreducens, Shewanella oneidensis and Veillonella atypica. Environmental Technology 30:12,1313 — 12,1326, doi: 10.1080/09593330902984751 (online abstract of journal articleExternal link)

Pearce, C.I., S.M. Baesman, J. Switzer Blum, J.W. Fellows, and R.S. Oremland. Nanoparticles formed from bacterial oxyanion reduction of toxic Group 15 and 16 metalloids. in Microbial Metal and Metalloid Metabolism: Advances and Applications (J.F. Stolz and R.S. Oremland, eds.), ASM Press, (submitted).

For more information contact Ronald S. Oremland, Menlo Park Regional Office.

See also Nanotechnology: Energy Sources >>


Biogenic Methane Generation from Coal and Other Geopolymers
An Interdisciplinary Study between Water Resources Discipline and Geologic Discipline
Coal boring rig at dusk in Texas. Photo credit: USGS
Coal boring rig at dusk in Texas. Photo credit: USGS

Coalbed methane is a significant energy resource, currently accounting for about 10% of natural gas production in the USA. Coalbed methane can result both from primary geological and secondary biological processes. Once the methane in a coalbed is harvested, there is a potential for generating additional methane through microbial activity. However, little is yet known about the microbial process of generating secondary methane from coal, or the mechanisms that control the occurrence or rate of the process. A bioassay was developed to determine the amount of coal organic matter available for microbial conversion to methane. A microbial consortium (WBC-2) was shown to produce secondary biogenic methane from several samples of subbituminous coal in laboratory experiments. WBC-2 is a mixed culture which includes bacteria capable of fermenting some of the complex organic structures in coal to methane precursors and methanogens that then generate methane. The WBC-2 bioassay was used to compare the methane generating potential of 16 subbituminous coal samples from cores drilled in south Texas, the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and the North Slope of Alaska. The bioassay offers a new tool for assessing the potential of coal for secondary methane generation, and provides a platform for studying the mechanisms involved in this economically important activity.

For more information view the project summary Biogenic Methane Generation from Coal and Other Geopolymers and the following publication:

Jones, EJP, MA Voytek, PD Warwick, MD Corum, A Cohn, JE Bunnell, AC Clark, WH Orem, 2008. Bioassay for estimating the biogenic methane-generating potential of coal samples. J. Coal Geology 76: 138-150

Also contact Mary Voytek and Elizabeth J. Jones, Voytek Microbiology.

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Microbial Fuel Cells
Mono Lake looking west toward the Sierra Nevada from Paoha Island. Photo credit: Laurence G. Miller, USGS
Mono Lake looking west toward the Sierra Nevada from Paoha Island. Photo credit: Laurence G. Miller, USGS
Searles Lake looking east toward the Slate Range. Photo credit: Shelley E. Hoeft, USGS
Searles Lake looking east toward the Slate Range. Photo credit: Shelley E. Hoeft, USGS

Energy stored in organic matter or in reduced inorganic compounds may be recovered during electron transfer within microbial fuel cells (MFCs). MFCs operate like a battery, with two electrodes separated by a proton exchange membrane. These fuel cells capitalize on the ability of certain bacteria to facilitate transfer of electrons to an anode. We found that pure cultures of arsenate respiring bacteria from Mono Lake and Searles Lake, California were equally capable of generating electricity but that sediments and sediment slurries from Mono Lake produced more electricity than Searles Lake sediments. This was the first use of MFCs to demonstrate electricity production in extreme hypersaline environments and could be used to design life detection experiments for Mars or elsewhere.

For more information see Microbial Biogeochemistry of Aquatic Environments and the following publication:

Miller, L.G., and Oremland, R.S, 2008, Electricity generation by anaerobic bacteria and anoxic sediments from hypersaline soda lakes: Extremophiles, v. 12, no. 6, p. 837-848. DOI 10.1007/s00792-008-0191-5. (on-line abstract of journal article External link)

Also contact Laurence G. Miller and Ronald S. Oremland, Menlo Park Regional Office.

Microbial fuel cell. Photo credit: Laurence G. Miller, USGS
Fig. 1
Microbial fuel cell. Photo credit: Laurence G. Miller, USGS
Fig 2.
Microbial fuel cell. Photo credit: Laurence G. Miller, USGS
Fig 3.

Figures 1-3. Three microbial fuel cells (MFC’s) used for measuring electricity production in pure cultures (1) sediments (2) and sediment slurries (3). Photo credit: Laurence G. Miller, USGS


Production of Nanomaterials of Group 15 and 16 Elements
Elemental selenium spheres formed by Bacillus selenitireducens
Elemental selenium spheres formed by Bacillus selenitireducens. (A) SEM of cells growing on selenite and forming chains of Se(0) spheres. (B) TEM (thin section) of a cell grown on selenite that formed internalized Se(0). (C) TEM (whole mount) of nitrate-grown washed cells of B. selenitreducens that were fed selenite, showing a large number of external Se(0) spheres. (D) EDS of the particle in panel C indicated by an arrow. From Oremland et al. (2004). Larger View
Te(0) nanomaterials formed by dissimilatory reduction of Te(IV) by B. selenitireducens
Te(0) nanomaterials formed by dissimilatory reduction of Te(IV) by B. selenitireducens. (A) TEM of cell surfaces of washed cell suspensions given Te(IV) and showing Te nanorods (“nr” arrows). (B) TEM of extracellular Te(0) nanorods (“nr” arrows) and larger Te shards (“S” arrows) on cells growing on Te(IV). (C) SEM of cells and Te rosettes (“R” arrow). (D) Wider-field SEM view of the abundance of the external Te(0) rosettes (“R” arrow). (E) TEM thin section showing internal cellular accumulations of Te(0) nanorods (arrows) after incubation of washed cells with Te(IV). From Baesman et al. (2007). Larger View

Oxyanions of elements like selenium, tellurium, and arsenic are highly toxic to life, but we have discovered bacteria that can exploit these substances as respiratory electron acceptors for their growth under anaerobic conditions. This results in the accumulation of nano-sized particles on the outside of the cells, which for selenium occurs as nanospheres of native (elemental) Se, and for tellurium as either nano-rosettes or nano-granules of native Te, depending upon the bacterial species under scrutiny. Group 15 and 16 elements are known to have opto-electrical properties, whereby they can convert light into electricity and vice versa. Thus, native Se and Te, as well as nano-sized compounds of these elements (e.g., CdSe, CdTe) and arsenic (e.g., As2S3) may have applications in the realm of “nano-photonics” maybe one day giving rise to photovoltaic designs for solar cells with higher conversion efficiencies of sunlight into electricity. For more information go to: Microbial Biogeochemistry of Aquatic Environments

Publications:

Oremland, R.S., Herbel, M.J., J. Switzer Blum, S. Langley, T.J. Beveridge, T. Sutto, P.M. Ajayan, A. Ellis, and S. Curran. 2004. Structural and spectral features of selenium nanospheres formed by Se-respiring bacteria. Applied & Environmental Microbiology 70: 52 - 60. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.70.1.52-60.2004 (on-line abstract and full textExternal link)

Baesman, S.M., T.D. Bullen, J. Dewald, D. H. Zhang, S. Curran, F. S. Islam, T. J. Beveridge, and R. S. Oremland. 2007. Formation of tellurium nanocrystals during anaerobic growth of bacteria that use Te oxyanions as respiratory electron acceptors. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 73: 2135 – 2143. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.02558-06 (on-line abstract and full textExternal link)

Pearce, C.I., R.A.D. Pattrick, N. Law, J.M. Charnock, V.S. Coker,W. Fellowes, R.S. Oremland and J.R. Lloyd. 2009. Investigating different mechanisms for biogenic selenite transformations: Geobacter sulfurreducens, Shewanella oneidensis and Veillonella atypica. Environmental Technology 30:12,1313 — 12,1326, doi: 10.1080/09593330902984751 (online abstract of journal articleExternal link)

Baesman, S.M., J.F. Stolz, and R.S. Oremland. 2009. Enrichment and isolation of Bacillus beveridgei sp. nov., a facultative anaerobic haloalkaliphile from Mono Lake, California that respires oxyanions of tellurium, selenium, and arsenic. Extremophiles 13: 695 - 705. (online abstract of journal articleExternal link)

For more information contact Ronald S. Oremland, Menlo Park Regional Office.

See also Nanotechnology: Energy Sources >>

Related Links and References


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