Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in biology. 2023-10-03;

Microbial Catalysis for CO2 Sequestration: A Geobiological Approach

Van Den Berghe M, Walworth NG, Dalvie NC, Dupont CL, Springer M, Andrews MG, Romaniello SJ, Hutchins DA, Montserrat F, Silver PA, Nealson KH

PMID: 37788887


One of the greatest threats facing the planet is the continued increase in excess greenhouse gasses, with CO being the primary driver due to its rapid increase in only a century. Excess CO is exacerbating known climate tipping points that will have cascading local and global effects including loss of biodiversity, global warming, and climate migration. However, global reduction of CO emissions is not enough. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will also be needed to avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming. Although the drawdown and storage of CO occur naturally via the coupling of the silicate and carbonate cycles, they operate over geological timescales (thousands of years). Here, we suggest that microbes can be used to accelerate this process, perhaps by orders of magnitude, while simultaneously producing potentially valuable by-products. This could provide both a sustainable pathway for global drawdown of CO and an environmentally benign biosynthesis of materials. We discuss several different approaches, all of which involve enhancing the rate of silicate weathering. We use the silicate mineral olivine as a case study because of its favorable weathering properties, global abundance, and growing interest in CDR applications. Extensive research is needed to determine both the upper limit of the rate of silicate dissolution and its potential to economically scale to draw down significant amounts (Mt/Gt) of CO Other industrial processes have successfully cultivated microbial consortia to provide valuable services at scale (e.g., wastewater treatment, anaerobic digestion, fermentation), and we argue that similar economies of scale could be achieved from this research.