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Stainless steel corrosion via direct iron-to-microbe electron transfer by Geobacter species
1  Northeastern University, China


Microbial corrosion of iron-based materials is a substantial economic problem. A mechanistic understanding is required to develop mitigation strategies. We report here that the mechanism for microbial corrosion of stainless steel, the metal of choice for many actual applications, can be significantly different from that for Fe(0). Although H2 is often an intermediary electron carrier between the metal and microbes during Fe(0) corrosion, we found that H2 is not abiotically produced from stainless steel, making this corrosion mechanism unlikely. Geobacter sulfurreducens and Geobacter metallireducens, electrotrophs that are known to directly accept electrons from other microbes or electrodes, extracted electrons from stainless steel via direct iron-to-microbe electron transfer. Genetic modification to prevent H2 consumption did not negatively impact on stainless steel corrosion. Corrosion was inhibited when genes for outer-surface cytochromes that are key electrical contacts were deleted. These results indicate that a common model of microbial Fe(0) corrosion by hydrogenase-positive microbes, in which H2 serves as an intermediary electron carrier between the metal surface and the microbe, may not apply to the microbial corrosion of stainless steel. However, direct iron-to-microbe electron transfer is a feasible route for stainless steel corrosion.

Keywords: microbial corrosion; stainless steel; corrosion mechanism