Oil and gas pipes in the United States alone are long enough to surround the Earth a hundred times.
These underground metal grids are corroding continuously, representing repair costs of billions of dollars. Not in the least, leaks from corroded pipes pollute the adjacent ecosystems. Prevention of such economic and ecosystem damage must start with a better understanding of how metallic iron (Fe0) is corroded. Although chemical corrosion of Fe0 occurs only when O2 is present, biological
processes corrode Fe0 under anoxic conditions, for example by respiration in anaerobic microorganisms using sulfate. Importantly, even in the absence of sulfate, certain Archaea use electrons from Fe0 as an energy source to reduce CO2 to methane. In effect, these archaeal methanogens cause extensive pipe damage by feeding directly on electrons from Fe0. The biochemical mechanisms of electron transfer and capture are, however, unknown. Here, I propose
the means to elucidate these mechanisms.
The two major objectives of my proposal are: (1) to learn how methanogenic Archaea (methanogens) use electrons from Fe0, and (2) to find how we can prevent Fe0 corrosion.
To accomplish these goals we will work at the interface between disciplines that include mineralogy, electrochemistry, microbiology, molecular biology and genetics. The requisite skills will be harnessed from laboratories in Denmark, Germany and the US. The vision is to discover what controls corrosion. Corrosion management of oil and gas pipes can prevent future environmental calamities, and will positively impact the economy of the World.