• 4 minutes 2nd Annual Great Oil Price Prediction Challenge of 2019
  • 7 minutes Nucelar Deal Is Dead? Iran Distances Itself Further From ND, Alarming Russia And France
  • 10 minutes Don Jr. Tweets name Ukraine Whistleblower, Eric Ciaramella. Worked for CIA during Obama Administration, Hold over to Trump National Security Counsel under Gen McCallister, more . . . .
  • 13 minutes Shale pioneer Chesepeak will file bankruptcy soon. FINALLY ! The consolidation begins
  • 12 hours The 5 Scary New Rules Of Upside-Down Capitalism
  • 2 hours U.S. Shale To Break Records Despite Bearish Rhetoric
  • 51 mins Winter Storms Hitting Continental US
  • 6 hours Hydrogen Hurdles in Japan
  • 21 hours More dumbed down? re Hong Kong Act of Congress
  • 13 hours Conoco next gen test wells Vintage 5 (V5) 20% recovery and say " We can do even better "
  • 13 hours PennEast Appealing Wacky 3rd Circuit Decision to Supreme Court
  • 1 day U.S. Shale Output may Start Dropping Next Year
  • 10 hours Aramco IPO magic trick
  • 23 hours Petroleum Industry Domain Names
  • 16 hours Impeachment S**te
  • 14 hours Contaminated Oil
  • 14 hours NATGAS, LNG, Technology, benefits etc , cleaner global energy fuel
  • 1 day Crazy Stories From Round The World
  • 13 hours Wonders of US Shale: US Shale Benefits: The U.S. leads global petroleum and natural gas production with record growth in 2018
Futurity

Futurity

Futurity covers research news from the top universities in the US, UK, Canada and Australia

More Info

Premium Content

Did Nature’s Fuel Cells Spark Life on Earth

Researchers have developed a new way to simulate the energetic processes that may have led to the emergence of cell metabolism on Earth—a crucial biological function for all living organisms.

The research, which is published online today in the journal Astrobiology, could help scientists to understand whether it is possible for life to have emerged in similar environments on other worlds.

“What we are trying to do is to bridge the gap between the geological processes of the early Earth and the emergence of biological life on this planet,” says study co-author Terry Kee from the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds.

Previously, some scientists have proposed that living organisms may have been transported to Earth by meteorites. Yet there is more support for the theory that life emerged on Earth in places like hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, forming from inanimate matter such as the chemical compounds found in gases and minerals.

Related Article: Earth’s Infrared Radiation: New Renewable Energy Frontier?

DEFINE ‘LIFE’

“Before biological life, one could say the early Earth had ‘geological life.’ It may seem unusual to consider geology, involving inanimate rocks and minerals, as being alive. But what is life?” says Kee.
“Many people have failed to come up with a satisfactory answer to this question. So what we have done instead is to look at what life does, and all life forms use the same chemical processes that occur in a fuel cell to generate their energy.”

Fuel cells in cars generate electrical energy by reacting fuels and oxidants. This is an example of a “redox reaction,” as one molecule loses electrons (is oxidized) and one molecule gains electrons (is reduced).

Similarly, photosynthesis in plants involves generating electrical energy from the reduction of carbon dioxide into sugars and the oxidation of water into molecular oxygen. And respiration in cells in the human body is the oxidation of sugars into carbon dioxide and the reduction of oxygen into water, with electrical energy produced in the reaction.

Certain geological environments, such as hydrothermal vents, can be considered as “environmental fuel cells,” since electrical energy can be generated from redox reactions between hydrothermal fuels and seawater oxidants, such as oxygen. Indeed, last year researchers in Japan demonstrated that electrical power can be harnessed from these vents in a deep-sea experiment in Okinawa.

THE ‘FUEL CELL MODEL’

In the new study, the researchers have demonstrated a proof of concept for their fuel cell model of the emergence of cell metabolism on Earth.

In the Energy Leeds Renewable Lab at the University of Leeds and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the team replaced traditional platinum catalysts in fuel cells and electrical experiments with those composed of geological minerals.

“Certain minerals could have driven geological redox reactions, later leading to a biological metabolism. We’re particularly interested in electrically conductive minerals containing iron and nickel that would have been common on the early Earth,” says lead author Laura Barge from the NASA Astrobiology Institute “Icy Worlds” team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Iron and nickel are much less reactive than platinum. However, a small but significant power output successfully demonstrated that these metals could still generate electricity in the fuel cell—and hence also act as catalysts for redox reactions within hydrothermal vents in the early Earth.

Related Article: Hydropower increasingly important in Scotland

For now, the chemistry of how geological reactions driven by inanimate rocks and minerals evolved into biological metabolisms is still a black box. But with a laboratory-based model for simulating these processes, scientists have taken an important step forward to understanding the origin of life on this planet and whether a similar process could occur on other worlds.

“These experiments simulate the electrical energy produced in geological systems, so we can also use this to simulate other planetary environments with liquid water, like Jupiter’s moon Europa or early Mars,” says Barge.

“With these techniques we could actually test whether any given hydrothermal system could produce enough energy to start life, or even, provide energetic habitats where life might still exist and could be detected by future missions.”

Energy Leeds, the Nuffield Foundation, and the NASA Astrobiology Institute “Icy Worlds” team provided funding for the study.

By Sarah Reed




Download The Free Oilprice App Today

Back to homepage



Leave a comment

Leave a comment




Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News
Download on the App Store Get it on Google Play