Earth Science Frontiers ›› 2020, Vol. 27 ›› Issue (5): 179-194.DOI: 10.13745/j.esf.sf.2020.5.35

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Natural mineral photoelectric effect: non-classical mineral photosynthesis

LU Anhuai, LI Yan, DING Hongrui, WANG Changqiu, XU Xiaoming, LIU Feifei, LIU Yuwei, ZHU Ying, LI Yanzhang   

  1. Beijing Key Laboratory of Mineral Environmental Function, School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2020-04-15 Revised:2020-05-28 Online:2020-09-25 Published:2020-09-25


Under the ever-existing solar irradiation, the organisms on Earth have evolved with a structurally sophisticated photosynthesis system. However, the inherent impact and response mechanism of solar illumination on the inorganic minerals widespread on the Earth surface has drawn little attention. We discovered for the first time the solar energy conversion system of the “mineral membrane”, which exerts potential oxygen production and carbon sequestration functions on the Earth surface. Our finding shed light on the photoelectric effect and non-classical photosynthesis of the natural semiconducting minerals. We carried out this research on the semiconducting property and photoelectron energy of the typical minerals in the “mineral membrane”. We further discussed the photoelectric effect, oxygen production and carbon sequestration functions of the ferromanganese oxides, as well as the corresponding geological records. We proposed that the sensitive and stable photon-to-electron conversion are performed by birnessite, goethite and hematite, which are semiconducting minerals commonly present in the natural “mineral membrane”. In addition, we put forward the non-classical mineral photosynthesis function as follows: the solar energy conversion system developed by inorganic minerals resembles the biological photosynthesis process regarding to oxygen evolving and carbon fixing; also, the “mineral membrane” may take part in the photocatalytic water-oxidation reaction and in the transformation of atmospheric CO2 into marine carbonate. Last but not least, minerals might as well have promoted the biologic photosynthesis system as the core complex in the Mn4CaO5 photosynthesis system evolved during water-oxidation process to form the structural analog birnessite. Therefore, it is fair to postulate that birnessite could play a role in the initiation of the photosynthesis system of cyanobacteria. On the other hand, minerals could weaken hydrogen bond strength and alter water property, thus to facilitate water oxidation and photosynthesis efficiencies, which would hopefully give further insights into the molecular mechanism of mineral participation in the biologic photosynthesis process.

Key words: mineral photoelectric effect, mineral non-classical photosynthesis, birnessite, mineral photoelectron energy, oxygen production and carbon sequestration

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