Elements Issue Highlights Abiotic Hydrogen and Hydrocarbons

The February 2020 issue of Elements offers a broad perspective of recent research into abiotic hydrogen and hydrocarbons, on Earth and beyond.

Research into abiotic hydrogen and hydrocarbons, which form from chemical reactions that are completely independent of life, has intensified in recent years, as scientists seek to learn the conditions under which they form, their role in the origin of life, and whether humans can use them as energy sources. 

In an upcoming issue of Elements, entitled “Abiotic Hydrogen and Hydrocarbons in Planetary Lithospheres,” scientists, including many early-career researchers, give an overview of recent advances in this field. DCO Deep Energy Community members Tom McCollom (University of Colorado, Boulder, USA) and Isabelle Martinez (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France), with Laurent Truche (Université Grenoble Alpes, France), were guest editors for the issue, which will publish in February 2020.

“I think we have a good collection of articles that have been well-written and give a broad perspective on the current state of the [research], ranging from terrestrial environments to the solar system at large,” said McCollom. “It’s written for a whole spectrum of people and also can be an educational tool for young scientists and students.”

All of the articles in the issue have direct connections to the research interests of the DCO community and include at least one DCO member author. The articles cover the processes that generate abiotic hydrogen and hydrocarbons, especially within the high temperatures and pressures of the subsurface, the size of their fluxes, and how microbes use these compounds for fuel on Earth and possibly other planets. The issue also gives a historical perspective of the methods scientists have used to differentiate between abiotic and biotic compounds, and the potential for future industrial explorations of abiotic hydrogen for fuel.

Table of contents

Hydrogen and abiotic hydrocarbons: molecules that change the world Truche L, McCollom T, Martinez I
Abiotic sources of molecular hydrogen on Earth Klein F, Tarnas J, Bach W
Behavior of hydrogen in aqueous fluids under high temperature and pressure Bazarkina E, Chou IM, Goncharov A, Akinfiev N 
Abiotic synthesis of methane and organic compounds in Earth’s lithosphere Reeves E, Fiebig J
Geologic hydrogen and methane as fuel for life Ménez, B
Hydrogen, hydrocarbons, and habitability across the solar system Glein C, Zolotov M
New perspectives in the industrial exploration of native hydrogen  Gaucher EC

Main image: The Rainbow hydrothermal vent system, located along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge near the Azores, is one site believed to produce significant quantities of abiotic hydrogen and hydrocarbons. Credit: Woods Holes Oceanographic Institution

Further Reading

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