Thermodynamic constraints on methanogenic crude oil biodegradation

Jan Dolfing*, Stephen R. Larter, Ian M. Head

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Methanogenic degradation of crude oil hydrocarbons is an important process in subsurface petroleum reservoirs and anoxic environments contaminated with petroleum. There are several possible routes whereby hydrocarbons may be converted to methane: (i) complete oxidation of alkanes to H 2 and CO 2, linked to methanogenesis from CO 2 reduction; (ii) oxidation of alkanes to acetate and H 2, linked to acetoclastic methanogenesis and CO 2 reduction; (iii) oxidation of alkanes to acetate and H 2, linked to syntrophic acetate oxidation and methanogenesis from CO 2 reduction; (iv) oxidation of alkanes to acetate alone, linked to acetoclastic methanogenesis and (v) oxidation of alkanes to acetate alone, linked to syntrophic acetate oxidation and methanogenesis from CO 2 reduction. We have developed the concept of a window of opportunity to evaluate the range of conditions under which each route is thermodynamically feasible. On this basis the largest window of opportunity is presented by the oxidation of alkanes to acetate alone, linked to acetoclastic methanogenesis. This contradicts field-based evidence that indicates that in petroleum rich environments acetoclastic methanogenesis is inhibited and that methanogenic CO 2 reduction is the predominant methanogenic process. Our analysis demonstrates that under those biological constraints oxidation of alkanes to acetate and H 2, linked to syntrophic acetate oxidation and methanogenesis from CO 2 reduction offers a greater window of opportunity than complete oxidation of alkanes to H 2 and CO 2 linked to methanogenic CO 2 reduction, and hence is the process most likely to occur.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-452
Number of pages11
JournalISME Journal
Volume2
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes

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