Bacteria to produce hydrogen fuel research on the rise

2008-07-17 03:00:34 GMT       2008-07-17 11:00:34 (Beijing Time)       Xinhua English

BEIJING, July 17 (Xinhuanet) -- Research into using bacteria to produce hydrogen, which has three times more potential energy by weight than gasoline, is making a comeback because of the rising profile of energy issues.

Researchers have combined the efforts of two kinds of bacteria to produce hydrogen -- the highest energy-content fuel available -- in a bioreactor, with the product from one providing food for the other.

According to the outline in Microbiology Today, this technology has an added bonus: leftover enzymes can be used to scavenge precious metals from spent automotive catalysts to help make fuel cells that convert hydrogen into energy.

In just the UK, 7 million tons of food per year are wasted. The majority of this is currently sent to landfills where it produces gases like methane, which is a greenhouse gas 23X more potent than carbon dioxide. Following some major advances in the technology used to make "biohydrogen," this waste can now be turned into valuable energy.

"There are special and yet prevalent circumstances under which micro-organisms have no better way of gaining energy than to release hydrogen into their environment," said Dr Mark Redwood from the University of Birmingham. "Microbes such as heterotrophs, cyanobacteria, microalgae and purple bacteria all produce biohydrogen in different ways."

When there is no oxygen, fermentative bacteria use carbohydrates like sugar to produce hydrogen and acids. Others, like purple bacteria, use light to produce energy (photosynthesis) and make hydrogen to help them break down molecules such as acids. These two reactions fit together as the purple bacteria can use the acids produced by the fermentation bacteria.

Professor Lynne Macaskie's Unit of Functional Bionanomaterials at the University of Birmingham has created two bioreactors that provide the ideal conditions for these two types of bacteria to produce hydrogen.

With a more advanced pre-treatment, biohydrogen can even be produced from the waste from food-crop cultivation, such as corn stalks and husks. Tens of millions of tonnes of this waste is produced every year in the UK. Diverting it from landfill into biohydrogen production addresses both climate change and energy security.


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