Imaging biologically induced mineralization in fully hydrated flow systems


A number of proposed technologies involve the controlled implementation of biologically induced carbonate mineral precipitation in the geologic subsurface. Examples include the enhancement of soil stability [1], immobilization of groundwater contaminants such as strontium and uranium [2], and the enhancement of oil recovery and geologic carbon sequestration via controlled permeability reduction [3]. The most significant challenge in these technologies remains to identify and better understand an industrially, environmentally, and economically viable carbonate precipitation route.One of the most promising routes is ureolytic biomineralization, because of the ample availability of urea and the controllable reaction rate. In this process, ureolytic bacteria hydrolyze urea, leading to an increase in pH. In the presence of calcium, this process favors the formation of solid calcium carbonate, as illustrated in the following equations:CO(NH2)2 + H2O → NH2COOH + NH3→ 2 NH3 + CO2 (Urea hydrolysis) (1)2 NH3 + 2 H2O ↔ 2NH4+ + 2OH– (pH increase) (2)CO2 + 2 OH– ↔ CO32– + H2O(Carbonate ion formation) (3)CO32– + Ca2+ ↔ CaCO3 (solid)(Precipitation is favored at high pH) (4)This process relies on molecular-level chemical and biological processes that must be better understood for large-scale implementation.Researchers at the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University (USA) and Aberystwyth University (UK) have conducted several biomineralization experiments in simulated porous media reactors. Microscopy has proven to be one of the most useful analytical tools in these studies, providing the ability to non-invasively visualize, differentiate, and quantify the various components, including the cells, cell matrix, and mineral precipitates. Because of the possibility of real-time observation and the lack of dehydration artifacts, microscopy has been tremendously useful for elucidating the temporal and spatial relationships of these components.




Schultz L, Pitts B, Mitchell AC, Cunningham AB, Gerlach R, "Imaging biologically induced mineralization in fully hydrated flow systems," Microscopy Today 2011 19(5):12-15
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