Pyrite-induced uv-photocatalytic abiotic nitrogen fixation: implications for early atmospheres and Life

E. Mateo-Marti* (Corresponding Author), S. Galvez-Martinez, C. Gil-Lozano, María-Paz Zorzano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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The molecular form of nitrogen, N2, is universally available but is biochemically inaccessible for life due to the strength of its triple bond. Prior to the emergence of life, there must have been an abiotic process that could fix nitrogen in a biochemically usable form. The UV photo-catalytic effects of minerals such as pyrite on nitrogen fixation have to date been overlooked. Here we show experimentally, using X-ray photoemission and infrared spectroscopies that, under a standard earth atmosphere containing nitrogen and water vapour at Earth or Martian pressures, nitrogen is fixed to pyrite as ammonium iron sulfate after merely two hours of exposure to 2,3 W/m 2 of ultraviolet irradiance in the 200–400 nm range. Our experiments show that this process exists also in the absence of UV, although about 50 times slower. The experiments also show that carbonates species are fixed on pyrite surface.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15311
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date25 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

This work has been supported by the MINECO project ESP2017- 89053. Te Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial supported the work performed at CAB. Tomas and Celina Huttel Serrano are acknowledged for providing the pyrite samples. This Project has been partially funded by the Spanish State Research Agency (AEI)
Project No. MDM-2017-0737 Unidad de Excelencia “María de Maeztu”- Centro de Astrobiología (INTA-CSIC).


  • Astrobiology
  • Planetary science


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