Organic carbon metabolism is a main determinant of hydrogen demand and dynamics in anaerobic soils

Megan Meinel, Anca G. Delgado, Zehra Esra Ilhan, Marisol Luna Aguero, Samuel Aguiar, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, César I. Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Hydrogen (H2) is a crucial electron donor for many processes in the environment including nitrate-, sulfate- and, iron-reduction, homoacetogenesis, and methanogenesis, and is a major determinant of microbial competition and metabolic pathways in groundwater, sediments, and soils. Despite the importance of H2 for many microbial processes in the environment, the total H2 consuming capacity (or H2 demand) of soils is generally unknown. Using soil microcosms with added H2, the aims of this study were 1) to measure the H2 demand of geochemically diverse soils and 2) to define the processes leading to this demand. Study results documented a large range of H2 demand in soil (0.034–1.2 millielectron equivalents H2 g−1 soil). The measured H2 demand greatly exceeded the theoretical demand predicted based on measured concentrations of common electron acceptors initially present in a library of 15 soils. While methanogenesis accounted for the largest fraction of H2 demand, humic acid reduction and acetogenesis were also significant contributing H2-consuming processes. Much of the H2 demand could be attributed to CO2 produced during incubation from fermentation and/or acetoclastic methanogenesis. The soil initial total organic carbon showed the strongest correlation to H2 demand. Besides external additions, H2 was likely generated or cycled in the microcosms. Apart from fermentative H2 production, carboxylate elongation to produce C4–C7 fatty acids may have accounted for additional H2 production in these soils. Many of these processes, especially the organic carbon contribution is underestimated in microbial models for H2 consumption in natural soil ecosystems or during bioremediation of contaminants in soils.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number134877
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Biogeochemical cycling
  • Fermentation
  • Homoacetogenesis
  • Hydrogen
  • Methanogenesis
  • Microbial chain elongation
  • Natural organic matter
  • Soils

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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