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Proceedings Paper

Amphorous hydrated Fe(III) sulfate: metastable product and bio-geochemical marker of iron oxidizing Thiobacilli
Author(s): Norman Lazaroff; John Jollie; Patrick R. Dugan
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Paper Abstract

Chemolithotrophic iron oxidation by Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and other iron oxidizing thiobacilli produce an Fe(III) sulfato complex that polymerizes as x-ray amorphous filaments approximately 40 nm in diameter. The precursor complex in solutionis seen by ATR-FTIR spectroscopy to have a sulfate spectrum resembling the v3 and v1 vibrational modes of the precipitated polymer. Chemically similar precipitates prepared by oxidation of acid ferrous sulfate with hydrogen peroxide have a different micromorphology, higher iron/sulfur ratio and acid solubility than the bacterial product. They possess coalescing globular microstructures composed of compacted micro-fibrils. Scanning electron microscopy and diffuse reflectance FTIR show the formation of iron polymer on the surface of immobilized cells of T. ferrooxidans, oxidizing iron during the corrosion of steel. Although spatially separated form the steel coupons by a membrane filter, the cell walls become covered with tufts of amorphous hydrated Fe(III) sulfate. The metastable polymer is converted to crystalline goethite, lepidocrocite, and magnetite in that order, as the pH rises due to proton reduction at cathodic sites on the steel. The instability of the iron polymer to changes in pH is also evidenced by the loss of sulfate when washed with lithium hydroxide solution at pH 8. Under those conditions there is little change in micromorphology, but restoration of sulfate with sulfuric acid at pH 2.5, fails to re-establish the original chemical structure. Adding sulfate salts of appropriate cations to solutions of the Fe(III) sulfato complex or suspensions of its precipitated polymer in dilute sulfuric acid, result in dissociation of the metastable complex followed by crystallization of ferric ions and sulfate in jarosites. Jarosites and other derivatives of iron precipitation by iron oxidizing thiobacilli, form conspicuous deposits in areas of natural pyrite leaching. The role of iron oxidizing thiobacilli in pyrite leaching, biohydrometallurgy, acid mine drainage, and the cycle of iron and sulfur in nature, has been studied for nearly 50 years. The manifestation of those activities, so widespread on Earth, can be a clue for seeking evidence of life elsewhere.

Paper Details

Date Published: 6 July 1998
PDF: 16 pages
Proc. SPIE 3441, Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology, (6 July 1998); doi: 10.1117/12.319853
Show Author Affiliations
Norman Lazaroff, Foundation for Microbiological Analysis (United States)
John Jollie, Idaho National Engineering Lab. (United States)
Patrick R. Dugan, Idaho National Engineering Lab. (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 3441:
Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology
Richard B. Hoover, Editor(s)

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